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How To Stop Receiving Paper Junk Mail and Save Trees

Published 6/19/09 (Modified 3/9/11)
By MoneyBlueBook

After finally returning home from an extended three month overseas trip to spend time with my parents, I was greeted back home by an overweight mail box stuffed to the brim and absolutely overflowing with junk mail. Although I had authorized my mail to be temporarily redirected to my brother's address while I was away, a very great deal of unsolicited junk mailers, expired coupon booklets, and pre-approved credit card offers still mysteriously winded up in my inbox. All in all, the entire paper pile, weighing in excess of many pounds, ultimately found its way straight into my trash can in a matter of minutes - fulfilling its pointless life cycle as not only a complete waste of my personal time, but as a fruitless consumer of precious natural resources.

Save The Environment and De-clutter Your Life By Reducing Junk Mail Trash

According to online statistics from sources such as the Center for a New American Dream (CNAD), a non profit organization based in Maryland whose stated mission is to protect the environment by helping Americans develop sustainable consumption habits - simply by eliminating the amount of junk mail you receive every day can significantly reduce the amount of energy and natural resources you consume, as well as greatly reduce the landfill space usage and carbon footprint that you leave behind. For example, according to numbers provided by CNAD, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and various sources, did you know that:

  • The average American household receives unsolicited junk mail equivalent to 1.5 trees every year, which comes out to more than 100 million trees for all U.S. households combined - the equivalent of deforesting the U.S. Rocky Mountain National Park every four months.
  • 5.4 million tons of bulk catalogs and other direct mailings wind up in the U.S. municipal solid waste stream every year - paper products which take as much energy to manufacture as 660,000 SUV's consume in a single year, and not even including the energy needed to print and transport them all.
  • American consumers throw away 44% of bulk mail unopened, while recycling only 32% of all that bulk mail - spending the equivalent of 8 months per lifetime opening junk mail letters and packages.
  • The process of manufacturing and recycling bulk paper parcels wastes more than 28 billion gallons of water every year.
  • Taxpayers spend more than $370 million every year just to collect and dispose of all the paper based junk mail that doesn't get recycled.

While I'm by no means a tree-hugging hippy, at some point the issue of junk mail just gets to become too much of a colossal waste of environmental resources, not to mention a tremendous mis-allocation of time and money that could be better spent elsewhere. It's time for each of us to cut back on the number of postal junk mail that we receive. Together in aggregate, we can indeed make a huge positive difference in the world. Besides, reducing junk mail solicitations can also greatly help us streamline and declutter our already complicated lives. Assuring that you only receive letters that are important to you, it also helps to reduce the chances that vital pieces of mail get lost in the shuffle amongst all of those weekly circulars, bulk catalogs, and credit card envelopes cramming up your mailbox.

Protect Your Mailbox Privacy and Prevent Identity Theft By Being Pro-Active

Because the whole concept of direct marketing is such an incredibly incentivized and lucrative business proposition for the mass mailing companies, it's nearly impossible to stop the junk mail stream completely. Everytime you sign up for a new credit card, subscribe to a magazine, purchase an item from a catalog, donate money to a charity, fill out a product warranty card, or buy a new car - you are potentially offering up your name and address to the direct marketers. Not only do these casual exchanges have the potential to lead to more junk mail down the road if you allow your personal address to be used in that way, they are also breeding cesspools for potential identity fraud and privacy violations. To stem the flow requires a multi-pronged attack that entails that you not only take pro-active actions, but also adopt preventative measures. Remember, contrary to popular belief, there is no actual legal right to automatically opt out of all junk mail, however we do have the right to be free of unwanted solicitations once we've properly and duly notified the junk mail spammer.

For starters, I recommend that you not waste money on programs out there that purportedly offer to help you remove your name from the junk mail offers and mailing lists, as you can easily do it yourself for free and with minimal effort. But if you wish to automate the opt out process and perpetually keep yourself off such lists, you may wish to try out junk mail prevention services like Tonic Mail Stopper (formerly called Green Dimes). However, note that even with the use of online programs that automate the process, like trying to get rid of roaches, there is just no easy way to permanently halt the unwelcome torrent of junk mail that surges into your mail box on a daily basis. The nearly unstoppable junk mail solicitations simply have an uncanny way of showing up even after you've seemingly snuffed them out at their source. Fortunately, there are strategies and tactful ways to combat the junk mail problem.

Steps To Fight Back and Reduce The Junk Mail That You Receive

1) Remove Your Name From the Direct Marketing Association's Mailing List: Consumers receive the vast majority of their unsolicited junk mail from just three sources: the DMA (advertising letters, flyers, and brochures), the Abacus Catalog Alliance (retail store and online catalogs), and the major credit report bureaus (credit card applications and insurance offers). If you do nothing else, I highly recommend that you at least take the time to visit the Direct Marketing Association's DMA Choice registration page, and get your name placed onto their do-not-mail list. DMA member merchants are required to update their mailing lists regularly and stop marketing to consumers that have opted out.

Getting onto the DMA do-no-mail list is one of the easiest things you can do to significantly reduce the junk mail that you receive. You will be able to remove your name and mailing address from the national mailing lists of a great number of direct marketing companies this way. While wiping your name and address from their roster is quick and easy, bear in mind that your online removal request is only valid for 3 years and you'll have to re-register again after that time. There is absolutely no fee for online registration, but mail in submission requires a $1.00 check or money order processing charge.

  • Register Names Of Deceased: The Direct Marketing Association also gives friends, relatives, and caregivers the ability to remove the names of deceased family members and other individuals from commercial marketing lists via the association's Deceased Do Not Contact (DDNC) registrar (no verification fee). I haven't tried myself, but I wonder if it's possible for very-much alive consumers to intentionally placed themselves onto the list and pretend to have died to rid themselves of junk mail. It's worth a shot I suppose although I haven't really thought out the potential consequences of such a creative approach. If you've placed yourself onto the Deceased Do Not Contact list before, please share your results!

2) Remove Your Name From the Epsilon Abacus Cooperative Mailing List: Abacus, a division of Epsilon Data Services runs perhaps the largest database of mailing addresses out there for its members, mostly catalog and retail companies. Merchant members of the Abacus Cooperative contribute information about their customers and transactions���� in exchange for information about other customers that may be interested in their products. As such, Abacus retains a pretty accurate database of consumer spending habits and personal contact information. Opting out is easy and signing up allows you to permanently halt the catalog mailers from the association's members. Simply visit the Abacus Opt Out page and follow the appropriate instructions, or e-mail abacusoptout@epsilon.com with your full name and current address to request permanent removal.

3) Opt Out Of All Pre-Approved Credit Card Junk Mail: Visit OptOutPrescreen.com to stem the flow of pre-approved credit card solicitations clogging up your mail box. The website is the official Consumer Credit Reporting Industry homepage to accept and process requests from consumers to opt-in or opt-out of firm offers of credit or insurance. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), the credit reporting companies of Equifax, Experian, TransUnion, and even little known Innovis are permitted to include your name and address on marketing lists used by credit card issuers, mortgage brokers, and insurers to make offers of credit or insurance that are not necessarily initiated by you. However, they must also abide by your wish to opt out and put an end to these credit card pre-approvals if that is your wish. Simply visit the OptOutPrescreen.com website to get your name deleted from their lists for a period of 5 years or longer. If you desire permanent removal, simply select the mail-in option (I highly recommend this). To submit your request, you will need to provide your full name, mailing address, birth date, and social security number. Unfortunately, this service is not currently available for businesses or companies.

4) Opt Out Of All Flyers, Brochures, and Coupon Packs: Some people like receiving weekly flyers and monthly coupon books filled with assorted promotional offers from local stores and companies. I on the other hand hate receiving them and regard them as junk mail. These types of bulk mail bundles generally involve envelopes containing a wide array of ads and coupons for locally based stores and services such as window replacement, carpet cleaning, air duct services, car washing, restaurants, and even promotional leaflets for various acai berry scams. I have yet to find any of these coupons useful.

Most of these coupon booklets are usually generically addressed to "current resident" or "current occupant" and sent out en masse with no personalization of any sort. They also frequently contain postcards with ads, often accompanied by pictures of missing children. In almost all cases, the name, phone number, and sometimes even the website address of the company that issued the junk mailer will be printed on the bulk mail package itself or on the accompanying card that contains your mailing address. Simply call or send a letter to the company directly to have your name and address taken off the bulk mailing list. For your reference, here are several of the biggest bulk coupon book marketing companies out there:

  • Valassis, aka. Red Plum Coupons: Get yourself removed from Valassis or Red Plum's coupon book mailing list by filling out and submitting an opt out request at the Valassis Consumer Support page, or by calling 1-888-241-6760. It takes about 5-6 weeks to process.
  • Val Pak Savings Coupons: You can opt out of Val-Pak's ubiquitous blue envelope packs by visiting the Cox Target Media mailing list removal request page. Be sure to input your address information exactly as it is printed on your ValPak envelope to ensure proper removal.

5) Ask Magazines and Charities Not To Sell Your Name Or Address: Tell magazines that you subscribe to and charities that you donate to the magic words - that you don't want them to "sell, rent, share, or trade your name and address" with other businesses or charity organizations.����

6) Remove Yourself From Sweepstakes and Prize Drawings: The chances of ever winning are incredibly slim and not worth the hassle of having to deal with future junk mail solicitations. Besides, the main purpose of these contests and reward promotions is for companies to compile mailing lists of prospective customers, not to award prizes. Always avoid participating in any such offers unless you have the option, based on contest rules, to completely opt out of being placed on a mailing list. To get yourself removed from the major sweepstakes and prevent your address from being passed on to other companies for the purpose of receiving future marketing offers, contact the following:

  • Publishers Clearinghouse Sweepstakes: Call: 1-800-645-9242 or e-mail privacychoices@pchmail.com
  • Readers Digest Sweepstakes: Call 1-800-310-6261 or send a letter request to Reader's Digest customer service at: Reader's Digest, PO Box 50005, Prescott, AZ 86301-5005

7) Avoid Filling Out Product Warranty Or Buyer Registration Cards: Contrary to popular belief, those product warranty registration cards that come with the products you buy have less to do with warranty coverage than they have to do with allowing the company to update their mailing lists. A product warranty is effective the moment you purchase the product and is almost always valid whether or not you return the product warranty card (as long as you have a proper receipt). You may have noticed that many of these registration cards frequently ask for lifestyle and personal interest hobby type information, along with details about your household makeup, your income bracket, and other seemingly irrelevant data. This is to allow the company to better categorize you into the proper demographic list for future marketing solicitations, and has little to do with the underlying warranty.

8) Refuse To Accept Junk Mail By Returning To Sender: Here's a tip to combat against other unsolicited junk mail offers not covered by the items listed above. When junk letters arrive in envelopes that specifically indicate "change service requested" or "address service requested", it means that you can refuse to receive the letter and have it returned to the sender on demand. Simply write "Refused - Return To Sender" or "Return To Sender - Refused By Addressee" on the envelope and drop it unopened back into the outgoing mailbox to have it sent back to the sender. In most cases, this will cause the sender to remove the address from its bulk mailing list. Additionally for such letters or bulk mailers where there is indication on the face that return postage is guaranteed, you may also wish to write "Remove me from your mailing list immediately" on the face of the envelope to punctuate your point. Remember, all such returned letters to the sender must be unopened so be certain of the nature of the contents before rejecting them.

9) Beware Of The U.S. Postal Service's Change of Address Cards: One of the biggest and sneakiest secret of all - is that the United States Postal Service is perhaps one of the biggest exploiters of your mailing information out there. The Post Office generates a very large amount of income from selling the mail forwarding database that it regularly updates. Every time you move and fill out one of those permanent change of address cards or mail forwarding forms at the Post Office, your new mailing address information is almost always immediately offered to prospective direct mail marketers for a price. I've tried contacting the post office to compel them to stop giving out my new addresses to companies - but it's been a pretty futile gesture on my part.

One way to get around this is to submit a temporary change of address for a long period of time such as 6 months. Your new address information is not passed along to businesses for temporary moves, only permanent ones. If you are willing to manually contact all of the legitimate companies that you do business with or have accounts with to advise them of your new permanent address change, this is one way to prevent the Post Office from updating the junk mail marketers of your new location. Of course, make sure all of your friends, relatives, and bill collectors know of your new address.

For consumers who wish to forcibly stop the flood of sexually explicit mail to their residence, one way is to submit a USPS Form 1500 (Prohibitory Order Application), which notifies the senders to cease and desist their mailers to you. I have yet to hear of anyone using this powerful tool to stop an overly aggressive (but non-sexually based) bulk mailing company's marketing attempts, but it certainly is another potential way to discourage junk mail companies from cluttering up your mailbox.

10) Opt For Electronic Statements, and Stop Receiving Paper Bills: It's time for everyone to join the modern era and put an end to paper statements by banking online and accessing their monthly bills and statements via the Internet. Not only do paper statements generate an inordinate amount of trash and clutter, these paper based bills are yet another opportunity for businesses to send you more junk through the mail. Contact your banks, credit card issuers, insurance companies, and utility providers - and sign up for automatic debit payments and electronic billing as soon as possible. Along with the reduction in clutter and paper usage, you'll also save a lot of money on stamps by going paperless.

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