Get Rid of Unwanted Mail. It's Bad for your Wallet and Bad for the Environment

(This article is a part of the Blog Action Day that brings together 14,000+ bloggers from different walks of life in a global effort to increase awareness about environmental issues.)

In an earlier life, I would open every piece of mail I received in my mail box to look for coupons. And if I found a coupon that I liked I would be off shopping. I mean, what’s not to like about 20% discount at Bed, Bath & Beyond, right? Well, here’s what – I did not really need anything from Bed, Bath and Beyond! I was essentially being conned into spending for the purchase of an item that I didn't particularly care for. That is just one of the evil ways that junk mail can harm your wallet. And the evil it wreaks on the environment is so much worse!

How Unwanted Mail Costs you Money!

  • They are a source of temptation to spend money.

  • Marketing people have spent years and years learning the human psychology to figure out how they can con consumers into buying more stuff. As mentioned above, it may be a coupon or a discount or a check for some money if you start a service etc. Or it may be catalogs with pretty pictures that instill a yearning to go buy stuff. Overall, the unwanted mail instigates a desire to buy stuff that you otherwise don’t need or think of.

  • They add clutter and clutter can cost money.

  • If you do not immediately sort out the necessary mail from junk mail and throw away the junk mail, you will soon find your house/apartment cluttered with paper. Some important mail can easily be lost in this clutter resulting in late payments (and some hefty fees) or lost opportunities.

  • Your tax dollars are spent to get rid of the junk mail you throw away.

  • According to the Stopjunk website, it costs 320 million of tax dollars for disposing off the unwanted mail! That’s money not spent to improve our schools, public transportation, roads and other really worthy causes. And that’s our money that is getting wasted!

  • You spend precious time to sort through them and time is money.

  • According to the New American Dream website, Americans throw away 44% of bulk mail unopened, yet still spend 8 months per lifetime opening bulk mail. OK, those statistics could be quite hoakey and not all of our time may be spent in productive money-earning tasks, but do your really want to spend that time in sorting through junk mail or would you rather be spending it with your kids or watching TV or reading books etc?

How Unwanted Mail Hurts the Environment
  • Unwanted mail = wasted paper = cutting trees unnecessarily.

  • According to the New American Dream website, more than 100 million trees’ worth of bulk mail arrive in American mail boxes each year – that’s the equivalent of deforesting the entire Rocky Mountain National Park every four months. According to this newsletter article an average American family receives more than a tree’s worth of junk mail every year! Each of us who has not got rid of unwanted mail is directly contributing to deforestation.

  • The Energy cost of producing and disposing junk mail is exorbitant.

  • Not only is unwanted mail causing a lot of trees to be cut, it is wasting a lot of resources as well. If Americans receive several million tons of unwanted mail, imagine the energy used up in printing these material. And the fuel consumed to transport these to your door step. And the chemicals spent and the green house gasses generated in the process! According to the fact sheet on the New American Dream website, the production and disposal of direct mail consumes more energy than 3 million cars! That is just not worth it!

  • Not all junk mail can be recycled!

  • Some smart dumbass marketing manager some place decided that glossy paper will entice more people into buying their product and convinced the powers that be to finance a marketing campaign that only uses glossy paper. As if that were not bad enough, they decided to use colorful ads and probably staples too. The result is that I end up with a fantastic looking catalog that I am not interested in, but cannot recycle!

  • Not everyone recycles their junk mail.

  • Even if the junk mail was recyclable, not everyone makes the effort to recycle the junk mail. It is sad to see millions of tons of paper go directly from mailbox to trashcan to landfills after having consumed so many of environmental resources!

  • Unwanted junk mail fill up landfills.

  • The unwanted mail that is not recycled or cannot be recycled ends up in landfills. According to the statistics on this website 40% of the solid mass that makes up our landfills is paper and paperboard waste. By the year 2010, it is predicted to make up about 48%. While not all of this may be due to unwanted mail, considering that about 40 pounds of junk mail is sent to every adult each year and approximately 44% goes to a landfill unopened, I would think junk mail makes up for a large percentage of the paper that gets into land fills.

What you can do about it.
It’s simple. If every household makes an effort to minimize the junk mail they receive, together we can stop this monster that wreaks havoc on our money and the environment.

  • Opt Out of Prescreened Credit Card Offers

  • A joint venture of the three credit bureaus helps stop prescreened credit card and insurance solicitations from landing in your mail box. You can opt out by calling the toll free number 1-888-5-OPTOUT or online through the website

  • Register for the Direct Marketing Association’s “Do not mail” list.

  • While there is no law at this time that requires companies to not mail you because you have registered with the “Do not mail” list, most companies recognize that if you have gone so far to add your name to the list you will likely just throw away any offers they send you. So in the interest of saving money and guarding their reputation, many companies who are part of the DMA stop sending you offers. There is a charge of $1 for this service though and the response is slow since the main database is not updated on a continuous ongoing basis. You can register online using this form.

  • Turn down local coupons and fliers.

  • According to postal regulations, all fliers must be accompanied by an address card or an address label. This may be in the form of a post card with a missing child’s photograph or a label on one of the fliers and will likely be addressed to the “current resident” or “occupant”. This card/label will have information that will help you identify the company that is mailing out the fliers. Look online or in yellow pages and call the company directly to have your address taken off the list. Here is the contact information for three of the major flier/coupon/catalog mailing companies –
    • ADVO, Inc.: Call up (888) 241-6760 or use this online form.

    • Val-Pak Coupons : Call up (888) 797-1896 or use this online form.

    • Abacus, Inc. : By e-mail: with “remove” in the subject line and name and address in the mail.

  • Cancel catalogs from individual stores.

  • When you receive catalogs in mail, look for a customer service number and call up right away before you forget and ask them to stop sending you any more catalogs.

  • Opt for E-bills and electronic statements.

  • Every time I receive my credit card bill or a bank statement, I find that the envelope is stuffed with a bunch of fliers and offers. This junk can be reduced by opting for e-bills and e-statements. But it may not work for everyone. If you are like us and paranoid that you might forget to send a payment without the regular paper mail reminderrs, then you may not want to go for this option.

  • Unsubscribe from unwanted magazines.

  • Magazines are one of the biggest leaks in most people’s budgets. If you have a credit card that gets automatically charged every year, then you may not even realize that your subscription has been renewed. The magazines that you liked last year may not appeal to you now and may end up in a pile on your coffee table without ever being read. Please call the unread magazine companies and cancel your subscriptions. This way you can not only plug the money leak, you can save the environment too.

  • Mention explicitly that you do not want information sold.

  • When you sign up for any new service or subscription, clearly write the following next to your address – “Please do not sell, trade or make publicly available”. It may or may not help, but hey, no harm trying!

  • And finally, if some unwanted mail sneaks into your mail box recycle it.

  • Recycling is catching on in most big cities in the US. Here in Texas, there is a scheduled recycle pick up that is aligned with regular trash pick up, in most cities. Also, many apartment communities offer specially marked trash cans for recyclable items. Actually, at our previous apartment there was a recycle bin right next to the mail boxes so we could dump the unwanted mails as soon as we picked them up and have them recycled. I am not sure how widespread the effort to recycle is, but do your part. If in spite of all the steps above you continue to receive unwanted mails, try to dispose them off in a responsible manner.

More resources for learning about junk mail
If you have more questions and are looking for more information, check out these resources for more information.

If each one of us does our part, we can make sure that our environmental footprint is kept small and our future generations can continue to enjoy this planet as much as we do. And saving some money in the process is a nice bonus :)

*Image Credit: Photograph by sparkyourart [via Flickr]


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financial hack said...

It's a shame that there is so much junkmail. Unfortunately, the reason that they send it is that it pays. Great advice to take the initiative and start reducing the amount you receive.

ChristianPF said...

Great post - I had never really thought about the negative impact all that annoying mail had on the environment! Now it is twice as annoying ;)

Pinyo said...

This is an awesome post. I will definitely bookmark this one for future ref.

kingkool68 said...

If you are feeling particularly spiteful, you can always send the mail back to them in their pre-paid envelope ->

Jay Nelson said...

In addition to the other ways to reduce unwanted mail mentioed here, including the much publicized Direct Marketing Association (DMA) opt-out services, there is another little-known means of stopping unwanted direct mail advertisements from reaching your mailbox.

It is nearly 100 percent effective.

Pursuant to federal law (Title 39 USC § 3008), a postal addressee who receives an unsolicited (or solicited) advertisement offering for sale matter that, in the addressee’s sole discretion, is “erotically arousing or sexually provocative,” may, by completing PS Form 1500, obtain a Prohibitory Order from the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) directing the mailer to refrain from making further mailings to that addressee.

The key phrase is “…in the addressee’s sole discretion…” For example, if a pizza advertisement strikes you as sexually provocative, you can use the Prohibitory Order to stop the company from mailing your further advertisements.

Should the mailer (vendor) continue sending mail after receiving the USPS Prohibitory Order, the USPS turns the matter over to the United States Department of Justice for prosecution. The Justice Department is responsible for prosecuting violations of postal related laws.

While the law, the form and the USPS instructions for using the form were originally intended for sexually explicit and provocative mail, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a decision - Rowan vs. U.S. Post Office Department, 397 U.S. 728 (1970) - ruled that the law under Title 39 USC § 4009 (now 39 USC § 3008) includes all unwanted commercial mail. Thus, PS Form 1500 is no longer used just for sexually explicit or provocative mail - although it still reads as such.

Why the USPS or Congress has not changed the law, the form or the instructions to reflect the Supreme Court decision in the past 37 years is a another conundrum that begs an answer.

Nevertheless, do not be intimidated or confused by the instructions, the form or the law.

If you have been receiving unwanted direct mail advertisements and you no longer want to receive them, simply go to the below website, print out the form and instructions, fill in the form, sign it, and mail it to the U. S. Postal Service at the address shown below.

Shortly (experience indicates about 15 days after USPS receipt of the application), you will receive a letter advising you of the USPS action taken. Again, do not be confused by the letter's wording - it all relates to sexual mail that you decided you did not want. Just think of your unwanted advertisements as sexually explicit mail.

Use the below website to obtain PS Form 1500 and the instructions for completion:

Action Steps:

1. Open the advertising envelope or wrapper (if there is one), take out all the contents and attach everything, including the envelope or wrapper, to the form. The USPS WILL NOT accept unopened envelopes or wrappers. Put all this into another envelope.

2. Send your PS Form 1500 and material directly to:

Pricing and Classification Service Center
US Postal Service
PO Box 1500
New York NY 10008-1500

You may need a large envelope for this step.

It is not necessary to give the form to your postmaster, as proposed in the USPS instructions as that office will only send it to the above address. Also, there have been reports that some Post Offices do not even know about the form or the process.

3. Mark your calendar about 15 days out from the date you mail your form to USPS. If you do not receive a response by the date you expect to receive it, start inquiring. You can start here:

Pricing and Classification Service Center
Tel. 212-330-5300
FAX: 212-330-5330

4. If you don't get prompt service from these folks, report this directly to the Postmaster General at:

Postmaster General
U.S. Postal Service
475 L’Enfant Plaza, SW
Washington, DC 20260-1000
Tel. 202-268-2020 FAX: 202-268-5211

5. After you receive your copy of the USPS Prohibitory Order, mark your calendar again in accordance with the 30-day period explained in the letter. If, after the 30-day period, you receive mail that appears to have been sent in violation of the prohibitory order, open it and write clearly on the envelope and all its contents a statement that you received it and the date of receipt. For example, "I received this mailpiece on April 5, 2007." Apply your signature below your statement. Include a photocopy of your prohibitory order, if possible, or a notation of the order number and send the mailpiece to the address noted in paragraph 2., above.

Important: Be courteous but firm in your letters and phone calls, where necessary. Inappropriate language and rage will defeat your objective totally.

Additional information:

a. The USPS disposes of all unwanted third class mail - now called "Standard Mail” - that you mark "refused" or "return to sender." Nearly all advertisements are Standard Mail. Thus, if it is your desire to help reduce waste, this method is not an option.

b. Use of the DMA opt-out services is somewhat successful, though not all advertisers belong to the DMA. Many nonmembers are the ignoble companies that Americans want to eliminate the most. Moreover, the DMA preference list is a blanket utility, i.e., not selective. “You cannot pick and choose which advertising mail you want to eliminate.” So, if you still want to receive catalogs from companies you have done business with, this is not a good option. The DMA also charges $1.00 for this service whereas critics believe this service should be free.

c. Once you have stopped the company from mailing advertisements to your address you may still receive the advertising for awhile. The reason is that mass (bulk) advertising coming through the post office is usually sorted by the company before the post office gets it, using mailing lists the mailer has with your address on it. The mail carrier just picks up the pile that has been presorted by street/area and just starts delivering it house by house without looking at the address. If this happens, advise your postmaster (or your mail carrier) that your address has been deleted from the company's mailing list and that you do not want any mail delivered to your address that does not have your address on the envelope or the wrapper.

d. There is one more concern and that is "saturation mail." It is usually mail or merchandise samples more than 5 inches wide (high) or 1/4 inch thick, or non-uniform in thickness. These mailings frequently do not have the address printed on the mailpiece. But in these situations the mailpiece must (by USPS regulation) be accompanied by a detached address label (DAL). This looks similar to a postcard in size with the recipient's address printed on the card. There are occurrences where the DAL does not accompany the mailpiece. But this mail can be stopped also by using the above procedures.

Also, tell your mail carrier or postmaster that you do not want to receive mail that does not have your name and address printed on the mailpiece.

Anonymous said...

The junk mail was such a problem I had to do something to Remove Junk Mail from my life. Every time I went to the mailbox it was buried in worthless mail. By using MyJunkTree i was able to reduce all teh mail that came to my home. I reduced teh miscellaneous junk mail, weekly coupons, credit card offers catalogs and phone books. I don't recycle as much now but, I just don't get the mail.

Anonymous said...

I happen to be one of the owners of MyJunkTree and as a new company I search the web to see if we are getting any visibility out there and it seems the word is getting out. Thanks for the support.

We launched the company because we were tired of all the junk mail we were receiving and we personally did not want to bounce all over the web to contact all the different companies to stop it all. First and foremost we wanted to let people choose what they wanted to let come to their home knowing that some people really do like some of the coupons and catalogs. So our clients choose what they want stopped.

We also had to provide a service that is different than the other services out there, so here is what we offer:

1. We have a database of over 1300 catalogs that you can choose to stop.
2. We have over a 2000 charities/Non-Profits that you can stop solicitations from.
3. Stop the delivery of the national phone directories.
4. Stop the delivery of the weekly coupons.
5. Stop the general credit card offers as well as the ones from your own major bank.
6. Stop the miscellaneous junk mail from the data brokers.
7. You can register on the National Do Not Call Registry from the website.
8. You can order your no strings attached free annual credit report right from the website.
9. We plant trees with every new membership.

And, yes we are a paid service and yes you can do everything that we do for free, if you want to do all the research and spend the time contacting the companies yourself it can easily be done. We have just done all of the legwork for our clients and feel there is value in the service we provide.

Anonymous said...

If you want to do more than just Stop Junk Mail that comes to your home, this site might also be of interest to you. Stopping Free Papers. It is a free service and they help you stop the delivery of all the free papers that are thrown in your driveway. The site is sponsored by MyJunkTree and it is totally free!

Gina said...

While I appreciate te need to reduce one's carbon footprint and I agree - if you don't want mail - sign up for the "do not mail" list via the DMA.
Don't be too quick to condem direct mail - do you think paper mills would deplete the one resource that nets them billions of dollars? (think again) several reports show that there are more trees today than in the 1800's.
Forests are harvested and replanted in amazing numbers and paper is still bio-degradeable = go after plastic manufacturers, that's what is filling up our landfills folks - diapers, plastic cups, bags and styrofoam.
Fact: direct mail is still the best medium for generating and conducting business and that my friends makes the world go round.

Years ago environmentalterrorists (watch them too:)were successful in shutting down the manufacture of DDT because "there was a possibility of harming cattle" (not conclusive evidence) While we truly don't know that farm animals were "saved" (and I personally am not a fan of chemicals)- fact is over one million children in Africa have died due to widespread malaria as a direct result of DDT not being available.
The point I make is be careful before you condem something without knowing all the facts.
Sure let's burn direct mail - then a multi-billion dollar industry goes away - along with it millions of jobs, further lost business revenue and yes, a dramatic effect on an already troubled economy.
Mail unlike email is non-invasive and mailers are geting smarter, mailing less, more targeted and directed mail. Hopefully the USPS will deliver one less day a week = less carbon emmissions and just better business.
The erotic mail approach/comment while funny is deceptive and imho a waste of good time & energy.
I'll cut myself off from direct mail when someone proves to me that the web is completely trustworthy ;0

Hot Deals said...

i think do not be confused by the letter's wording - it all relates to sexual mail that you decided you did not want. Just think of your unwanted advertisements as sexually explicit mail.