As far as I’m concerned, regardless of recyclability, junk mail is environmentally irresponsible. It turns up in my mailbox, only to be tossed out; it ends up blowing down the street when it escapes the refuse collection truck; and it generally advertises environmental tragedies like fast food joints and chain supermarkets. When I moved from Australia to the United States I was appalled by the amount of junk mail I started getting. I asked my American husband if we could slap a “No Junk Mail” sticker on our mailbox, the way Australians do, to repel junk mail. He looked at me incredulously as if to say, “A life without junk mail? There is no such beast.”
In Australia, it seems consumer’s addresses are not sold off as prolifically as they are in the U.S. Junk mail generally is not addressed to anyone in particular, and is often delivered by an employee of the mass mailer rather than through the postal service. If you don’t want it, you simply indicate that on your mailbox. In the States, I soon discovered that a number of organizations were collecting my address details. As soon as I joined a professional organization or signed up to receive information from my local hardware shop, I was on a multitude of other mailing lists. It seemed that I had lost the power to filter out advertising mail, a right I had taken for granted in Australia. For a short time I accepted the unsolicited influx of offerings for cheap pizzas and multi-pronged communications plans that the U.S. had to offer, pulling mail out of my mailbox and putting it straight into the recycling bin. But then I got wise: I figured there must be a way to turn off the tap. I considered returning my mail to its sender, but got a strange look from the USPS delivery woman when I asked her about it. “You don’t want to receive your mail?” she quizzed me. “You hardly get any mail already.” It was true – she often walked right past our mailbox and on to our neighbor. Regardless, I crossed my name and address out and wrote, “No longer required” on some mail. This proved to be difficult on glossy brochures with no room for my extra graffiti, and I had a strong suspicion that my mail would be tossed into the rubbish somewhere on its journey back to its source. It seemed another strategy had to be employed. I found a direct mailing company’s phone number on a pamphlet and rang it to politely request excommunication. The woman on the other end of the line sounded a little miffed, but she agreed. It was less painful than I had anticipated, even if I did feel like a whingeing, anti-capitalist sociopath. Satisfied with my first win against consumerism, I immersed myself in an anti-junk mail quest. An internet search, based on the names of companies responsible for my junk mail, revealed that each mass mailer had a website where I could request that my name and address be deleted from their mailing list. I felt that I had hit the jackpot – the end to junk mail. Here are some of the direct mailing company websites I tracked down:
In some cases the retailer itself gave me the option to be dropped from its invitation list. In addition, DirectMail.com, a company that collects information for mass mailers, compiles a list of those householders who don’t want any junk mail. They call this the “National Do Not Mail List.” This is what they have to say in response to frequently asked questions about their service:
You’re a direct mail company, so why would you want to help stop people from getting direct mail? Direct mail is a very expensive marketing medium. Our firm, and the clients we serve, do not want to send mail to people who do not want to receive it. That is why we have structured the National Do Not Mail List to allow people to tell mailers not to send them the kind of mail they don’t want. How does DirectMail.com's National Do Not Mail List work? We create lists of people who tell us they do not want to receive direct mail and supply that list to mass mailers so they can check that list against the mailing lists they use and take out the names that appear on both lists. Will you add my name to other lists when I sign up? … you are assured that we will NOT EVER add your name to any other mailing lists whatsoever, only those you might ask us to. Do you guarantee I will not receive any direct mail once I sign up? We make our National Do Not Mail List available to mailing list owners and users for the sole purpose of removing your name from their lists at their own discretion – we … cannot force them to do so …. We cannot guarantee that you will not receive any mail addressed to “Occupant” or “Resident.” We also cannot guarantee that you will not receive any mail sent to your place of business. How can I be sure I can trust you? Because we have been responsible direct mailers for almost 40 years. No direct mail company could survive for even a small fraction of that time period without providing honest and reliable service to its customers and clients.
I admit to being somewhat suspicious about the effect of giving my name and address details to mass mailers, but if there’s a chance to take back control of my mail, I’m willing to give it a go. DirectMail.com points out that it can take months before I stop receiving the mail I’ve asked to not get, due to seasonal marketing patterns. I’m still waiting to see if my efforts will stem the flow of glossy material into my mailbox. In the meantime, as each new piece of junk mail reaches me, I ponder over how my details were obtained by this new sender. I shudder to think about who has my name and address details, and how many databases I appear on. It seems that junk mail is, indeed, a part of life here in the U.S., however I live in hope of a sparsely filled mailbox sometime soon. Further Reading: