Stop Junk Mail Forever

Direct mail marketers take in billions each year by sending you pitches and promos you didn't ask for. Here's how to stop junk mail and end the "great paper waste."

| August/September 1994

  • 145 stop junk mail - envelopes pile
    Wouldn't it be wonderful if you could stop junk mail and not have to deal with massive piles like this?
  • 145 stop junk mail - moon landing
    If humanity establishes a base on the moon, junk mail will probably follow them there.

  • 145 stop junk mail - envelopes pile
  • 145 stop junk mail - moon landing

Every American, on average, receives 677 sales pitches in his or her mailbox every year—thanks to low-cost, third-class postal rates. While the direct mailers who produce and distribute those 40 million tons of sales pitches take in over $200 billion annually, taxpayers bear the burden of some $320 million to cart their unsolicited promos, pleas, and promises to and from incinerators, garbage dumps (on land and sea), and recycling centers. Sixty-eight million trees and 28 billion gallons of water (and the animals who lived there) are used to produce each year's crop of catalogs and come-ons. Nearly half get trashed unopened.

Many of the environmental organizations that you'd expect to speak up for the trees, rivers, and wildlife don't want to stop junk mail either. Why? Because they support themselves just like the other mailbox fishermen do: by casting an extremely wide net to catch a couple of fish. A "response rate" of 1% or 2%—that's 1 or 2 of every 100 pieces mailed—is considered typical, no matter if the mailer is a worthy charity ... or the distributor of yet one more vegetable slicer.

There's another issue of great concern to us: Privacy. We think Americans should have the right to choose how personal information about them is marketed, if at all. What follows are some clear instructions on how to keep your name, business, address, and other personal information, private-off of those thousands upon thousands of mailing lists that are regularly bought and sold, without our approval, for pennies a name.

But the privacy implications go well beyond junk mail. Until recently, anyone who wanted to find you—be it a bill collector, abusive spouse, or crazed stalker—could walk into your old post office, after you'd moved, and get your new address. All that was required was $3 and presentation of your former address. Finally realizing this danger, the U.S. Postal Service is changing the regulation that allows such easy access to your new address. But in many states, it remains nearly as simple to find you from your motor vehicle records.

Whoever Profits Should Pay the Costs

Direct-mail advertisers and the Post Office say that third-class/bulk rates are calculated to compensate the Post Office for its costs of handling and delivery. We're told that first-class stamp buyers like us (we never ship third class) "don't subsidize waste mail," as one postal official calls it. Perhaps that's true. I'm not convinced.

A solution might be the idea of "solid-waste-management rates" for junk mail, which were first proposed by Richard Bossert, of New York's Consumer Protection Board (R. Kessel, Chair). These rates would cover the full costs of delivery and disposal—with enough extra tossed in to pay for environmental damage.

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