Going Postal: A Year of Junk Mail

What's in 365 days' worth of junk mail?

Junk Mail in one year 450wIn December 2007, in “Junk Mail Box,” I lauded ad-mail slayer Catalog Choice and argued for US and Canadian Do Not Mail registries.

Soon thereafter, I began using Catalog Choice assiduously at home. I also refreshed my subscription to the Direct Mail Association’s Mail Preference Service. I wrote to ValPak to plead for a reprieve from their thick wads of coupon mailers (my own letter carrier gave me the address). I was about to start calling other direct mailers myself, demanding they take me off their lists. First, though, before putting more of my own time ormoney into de-spamming my snail mail, I conceived an experiment. I decided to stockpile every bit of advertising mail I received for 365 days. I wanted to see what Catalog Choice and DMA’s program would do to stem the tide.

The answer, it turned out, was “not enough.” Despite all I did, I still received a two-foot-tall stack of junk mail that weighed 50 pounds.

Junk mail two feet tallAs I said before, ad mail isn’t the biggest of Cascadia’s challenges, but it ought to be among the easiest to solve. In fact, it’s an opportunity for regional leadership. Unwanted mail wastes paper and all the trees, energy, and climate emissions it takes to manufacture and carry 50-pound piles of junk mail to each or us each year, then recycle it again, typically unopened. It also wastes advertisers’ money, driving up costs and prices and suppressing profits.

Enacting Do Not Mail registries in Cascadian states and provinces would likely spark imitation across North America. It might even stimulate national action.

In the interim, we can each trim the waste of paper and money individually, by de-junking our boxes. Here’s what I received at my door, and how I responded at year’s end:

junk mail phone books15 pounds of phone books. The sheer mass of these—30 percent of the total—was the biggest surprise. I got six books (of which, five were yellow business listings) from three competing companies. Preferring online directories, I almost never use a phone book. They usually go straight from the porch to the green bin. Strictly speaking, phone books are not mail, because they’re delivered by phone company contractors, not the Post Office. Still, they’re unsolicited advertising brought to your door, with no easy way to decline. One of them, called Yellowbook, promotes itself as “an eco-friendly company” on the cover.

ACTION: I scanned the opening pages of each phone book, looking for information about how to stop getting them. I even looked up the purportedly eco-friendly Yellowbook online. No luck. An internet search found this useful site for how to opt-out of phone book delivery. In a few minutes, I was able to opt out of Qwest and Yellowbook but not Verizon directories.

5 pounds of neighborhood advertisers: 10 percent of the total. Savings Source weekly advertisers promised to be my “source for great deals and discounts,” but all they did was leave me with ink-smudged fingers 40 times over the year.

ACTION: I called the phone number listed on Savings Source (206)652-6578) for “questions.” I got a recording that said, “to remove your address from our mailing list, please leave your information at the tone.” I guess recipients’ main question is how to unsubscribe.

junk mail catalogs3 pounds of bleached-paper, full-color, glossy catalogs from Eddie Bauer. I tried to stop them through Catalog Choice to no avail. They sent me a catalog every month.

5 pounds of catalogs from Bike Nashbar and Performance Bicycle, two corporate cousins from which I’ve made exactly one purchase each. Both ignored Catalog Choice: Nashbar sent me 10 catalogs, Performance sent me 18 catalogs and flyers.

2 pounds of catalogs from Road Runner Sports, from which I bought shoes twice for my size 14.5 feet. They sent me 10 catalogs and 2 flyers after I asked them through Catalog Choice to call off the dogs.

ACTION: I called these retailers’ toll-free numbers. The operators assured me the deluge would stop.

2 pounds of—mostly—glossy, full-color, cardstock from info-tech companies. Comcast hawked cable TV and/or high-speed internet 13 times. Qwest piled on with 14 catalogs, flyers, and letters, trying to sell me digital TV, cellular service, or voice-over-internet. Verizon, meanwhile, attempted seven times to sell me a new cell phone.

1 pound of political mail from the primary and general elections.

1 pound—five editions—of a surprisingly thick, ad-packed tabloid from the state youth soccer association.

Miscellaneous other advertisers contributed the remaining 16 pounds of junk mail: course catalogs from the local community college, for example, and the usual newsletters from organizations I am affiliated with, such as my bike club, food coop, health coop Group Health, insurers, and alma mater. None of these mailings offended my sensibility, and several of them have since agreed to excise me from future mailings.

junk mail credit cards and insuranceMore irksome were the 17—17!—credit card offers United Airlines sent. They promised me as many as 45,000 bonus miles (“more than enough,” the letter declared, “for a roundtrip ticket”), if I would apply for a new Visa.

My insurance company USAA, meanwhile, sent me 16 invitations to buy other forms of insurance or other financial services from them—including lots of ways to borrow money (just exactly what our economy does not need more of)! It used a technique also favored by Qwest: making its ad-mail look like actual correspondence about my policies and accounts. (To its credit, USAA promised to stop sending me mail of any kind, when I called them about this.)

One somewhat pleasant surprise was how little direct mail I got from nonprofit charities. I got only sixteen direct-mail appeals from nonprofit charities to which I have donated in the past, plus five others from groups to which I’ve never donated. These fundraising appeals were insignificant beside the catalogs.

Junk mail fancy post cardPerhaps the greatest irony of the whole year’s mail was the oversized postcard from Tourism British Columbia, which promotes the province as “Super, Natural.” The postcard, a thick slice of shimmering plastic, displays the stunning panorama you’d get from a canoe in Yoho National Park. The image changes depending on how you hold the card. It is one of the few mailers in the entire stack that’s not recyclable.

Stopping unwanted mail is not a particularly onerous task, but it is a hassle. Most people won’t bother. They’ll just keep transferring most of their mail from their post box to their recycling bin, unopened. Individual, voluntary action is a help, but more-effective solutions must operate on a larger scale. One heartening sign is that, in May of this year, Canada Post announced some new steps to stem junk mail. The US Postal Service has yet to follow suit.

So I’m going to keep calling retailers who stuff my mail box, but mostly, I’m going to keep speaking out. New laws that require mass-mailers to seek permission before inundating us with advertising would put the onus on the mailers, not normal citizens, to prevent waste. Regulations that ensure marketers respect third-party de-spammers such as Catalog Choice would simplify de-spamming dramatically for people like me: Eddie Bauer, Nashbar, Performance , and Road Runner sent me 10 pounds of unwanted catalogs after I sent them word through Catalog Choice to cease and desist. Best of all, national or state and provincial “Do Not Mail” registries would provide all postal patrons with a one-step way to de-spam their letter box, saving paper, energy, marketers’ money, and—the ultimate nonrenewable resource—time.

Notes: In case you want to try this experiment yourself, here are the rules I followed: To be junk mail, something has to be unsolicited. An REI catalog is junk; my Backpacker magazine is not. Similarly, the mail cannot be personal business: a credit card offer from my bank is junk, my bank statement is not. To be included in my tally, the item had to be addressed to me, or to “current resident.” If it was addressed to any of my kids, my ex-wife, or anyone else, I excluded it.

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  1. VeloBusDriver says:

    That stack of phonebooks doesn’t look thick enough to me. In our neighborhood, I like to joke about the “Phonebook of the month club” that we all seem to have joined. The phone books are dumped by our shared mailboxes. Usually only about half of them ever get picked up. After a week or two (less if it’s raining) I scoop them all up and deposit them into the recycle bin.

  2. Will says:

    This article underscores why we need an *enforceable* Do Not Mail Registry. The various tools out there for reducing junk mail will do what they can, but at the end of the day the junk mailer is free to ignore your request.It should be our decision. Sign the petition for a national Do Not Mail Registry at donotmail.orgThe petition’s getting close to its 100,000th signature, and we need every one we can get!Will Cravendonotmail.org

  3. Mailman says:

    The problem you are all forgetting is the impact on the economy and the workers of this country. The catalogue mailing industry fuels this economy with people making purchases through the use of their direct mail catalogues. This saves on store space, gasoline in traveling to the stores, and allows maufacturers to sell items at a reduced cost due to the reduced overhead.There are many mom and pop shops that are fighting to stay alive and they advertise in local mailings to try to compete with the box stores. Without this type of advertising directed at their local community they wouoldnt be able to survive. Lets not forget the postal service and all the employees there. Without the advertising and direct mail the postal service would eventually cease to exist. You may think that sounds all well and good but that would DESTROY our economy. Sales would plummet nationwide of home goods. The elderly and home bound would lose almost all contact with the outside world. There would be 650,000 unemployed people directly from the Postal Service, that doesn’t include, printers, paper manufacture’s suppliers, delivery drivers. All told you are looking about 2 million people that would be directly put out of work by this, not counting the ripple effect. I am sorry that you may be inconvienced for 5 minutes a week to prepare your recycling, but the impact of discontinuing it would be devastating on this country. You can not tell me there isn’t one of you that hasn’t purchased something from an unsolicited catalogue that you were just thumbing threw! Recycle renew reuse support your postal service, economy and American way of life!

  4. brian says:

    you forgot to metion deleting one email is the the same as boiling water on the store. You also forgot to mention that google has the largest carbon footprint in the world. You also forgot to mention that paper is the the largest recycled product in the world (60%) and makes up less than 3% of landfill waste. Only 18% of electronics are recycled. You also forgot to mention the stip mining envolved in generating electricity (coal) to power computers. You also forgot to mention for every tree harvested 3 are planted and that today there are more trees than 100 years ago. But I’m sure you knew that. Do you have a fancy granite counter top that was pulled out of the side of what was one day was a prestine mountain top?

  5. Mike says:

    I like to get advertisements in the mail – especially catalogues and ads for local tradesmen and merchants. I believe in suporting my local community by trading locally and the mail ads are very helpful. Catalogs from the big multi-national chains are of somewhat less value to me.

  6. Joe Sixpack says:

    The fact is that direct marketing via advertising mail is very effective as it can target a select demographic. Also much less intrusive than phone solicitation. At least with mail advertising, it is usually legitimate and not fake like e-mail spam or website “click to’s”. Get a real crusade and start a “DO NOT TV COMMERCIAL” campaign. Think of all the electricity that is wasted. At least paper can be recycled.

  7. JE says:

    Wow—the Direct Mail supporters appear to be out in force!I, like you, don’t appreciate these people having the right to dump their junk on my property. I have some suggestions to add, though. I realize you were trying an experiment to see how DMA choice and Catalog Choice worked, but Catalog Choice, at least, does work better if you report each violation. Like you, I found Eddie Bauer to be by far the worst offender. They used a sneaky technique, changing my “customer number” and source code each time. I finally gave in and emailed them directly, pointing out that I’d had more than 4 times as many violations from them as from the next-worst offender. The EB catalogs have stopped, at least for now. Now I’m working on Blair.com, which is the other company that doesn’t seem to honor their agreement.I’m not sure DMAchoice has had any effect at all. I had successfully stopped the Valpak mailings a couple of years ago, but just a month or so ago they started up again. If you call their number, they want you to mail them the envelope, if you please—oh, yes, I should have to spend almost 50 cents—not to mention the time—to prevent you from putting your junk on my property? On their website, if you drill down to the contact info for mailing list removal, it links to a page making much the same arguments that have appeared in previous comments about how junk mail saves the world. (Take your medicine, it’s good for you???) What bugs me is that I had successfully stopped these mailings, and they started again!On phone books, I was able, with quite a lot of trouble, to find numbers for each phone book company to tell them not to deliver. They each had a way, albeit not easy to find, to opt-out. But Verizon and Qwest both delivered, anyway. Each time, I called them to come and get the books—I figure if I just recycled them, they’d have no incentive to honor my request to stop delivering. The volume of books is down, though still not zero.On USAA, I use their online site to manage my account and there’s a pretty easy-to-find mailing preferences link.I do think Catalog Choice’s new iCatalog service is a reasonable alternative, and hope more merchants decide to use it.But this shouldn’t take so much time.

  8. JE says:

    Oh, and I’m surprised you don’t have newspaper ad circulars in your list. I had to go through quite some contortions including complaining to the local paper’s ombudsman to get these to stop. I don’t take the paper, but I was getting weekly circulars in my mailbox, anyway.

  9. Alan says:

    Velobusdriver,The massive inefficiency of the phone book business strikes me as an especially egregious example of wasteful advertising. I wonder what share of the phone books that get printed are actually used. Eliminating unwanted copies would be a win for everyone.Will,Thanks for the note about the petition, to which I linked in the post but didn’t call out.Mailman,The catalog mailing industry would do just fine if it stopped wasting 98 percent of its catalogs on people who don’t want them.Brian,Um, I’m not sure where you’re getting the factual claims, but most of them don’t pass the smell test. “Deleting one email is the same as boiling water on the stove”: not by about four orders of magnitude.Mike,With a do-not-mail registry, you could exclude big multi-national chains’ mail but get mail from local merchants. Do-not-mail enhances your power to choose.Joe Sixpack,Nationwide, TV broadcasting—like computers and internet—use a small fraction as much as energy and other resources as the paper industry. Not that I love TV ads: I don’t. And, in a carbon-constrained economy, we’ll need to find ways to conserve energy and resources in every sector of the economy.In any event, the point of my argument is not to ban junk mail! It is to give everyone a way to turn off the firehose of unwanted mail aimed at their own home.

  10. Alan Durning says:

    JE,Good points. Thanks. Your experience with phone books is especially revealing.”Savings Source” mentioned in my post IS the Seattle Times’ weekly ad circular.

  11. jason says:

    WOW!!! You have alot of time on your hands!! I can’t believe that junk mail is such a distraction. Just simply recycle it. There’s a lot of other things that this world can do to conserve resources. Mail that comes thru the postal system is tied to a 9 billion dollar industry!! If the postal service goes under (which it won’t) the impact to our economy will be devastating!!Plus alot of people can use coupons especially in this day and age.

  12. April Smith says:

    This is such a great experiment! We here at Catalog Choice thank you for using our service. We want you to know that we have worked diligently to ensure that more and more mailers are honoring consumer mail preferences, and our efforts are paying off. We now have nearly 550 catalog titles participating in the service and more joining every month. As far as mailers that are not participating in the service (Performance Bicycle/Bike Nashbar and Road Runner Sports, for example) we continue to deliver requests according to their privacy policy. While there is no guarantee that a name will be removed from a non-participating merchant’s mailing list, we know that many of these requests are also being fulfilled. You’ll be happy to hear that in the months ahead we will be providing consumers with ways to opt-out of other forms of mail, including coupons, credit card offers, marketing lists, and phone books. We are dedicated to providing the best free, centralized mail preference service. All mailers should accept request from third party services like ours if they meet quality standards. It is the right thing to do. If mailers ignore consumer requests, they made be faced in the future with a mandate to comply. -April Smith, Catalog Choice

  13. Michael says:

    Hi Alan, my name is Michael and I work for Eddie Bauer. I want to let you know that we’ve taken action on your request and removed you from our catalog mailing list.The best way to opt out of our catalog is by calling our customer service department, and they are able to take action to remove you (1-800-426-8020).Thanks,-Michael

  14. Alan Durning says:

    Jason,Who said anything about the postal system going under?April Smith,That’s good news about Catalog Choice’s planned new services!Michael,Thanks for the EB update. As I noted in the post, I finally phoned your 800 number and the operator promised to take me off the list. So I was already covered. The trouble seems to be that, although EB says it honors Catalog Choice requests, it doesn’t necessarily implement the orders. Also, when I order online or on the phone from Eddie Bauer—my main source of work wardrobe—will your computers add me back onto the list?

  15. Michael says:

    Alan, great to hear you’re a Eddie Bauer shopper! You can rest assured that if you continue to trust us with your business that you will no longer receive catalogs. Once you have been identified as somebody that no longer wishes to receive catalogs, you are no longer mailed.Also, I will follow up with your comment on Catalog Choice requests.

  16. J Y says:

    Everyone is getting upset about how much “junk mail” you get. Me being a letter carrier, it affects me and my co-workers greatly. Some of us have families and live among your neighborhoods. The economy affects us as it does you. The post office has been pushing for 5 day delivery. Personally, I think it’s a short sighted idea because when the economy comes back (and it will); they will be caught with their pants down because they won’t have the infrastructure to handle the increase in mail volume. You’re also talking 75,000 or 3% letter carriers alone being out of jobs, never mind the rest of the industry. Just remember who going to pay for those 75,000 unemployed folks. You and me the taxpayer. I implore you to think of that before complaining about the mail you don’t want to receive.

  17. Chuck says:

    Alan:Your conclusion is significant: “New laws that require mass-mailers to seek permission before inundating us with advertising would put the onus on the mailers, not normal citizens, to prevent waste. Regulations that ensure marketers respect third-party de-spammers such as Catalog Choice would simplify de-spamming dramatically”Thanks for doing all this work. As April said, we will continue to work diligently at Catalog Choice to provide the best possible service for consumers that want to control the marketing material that they get in the mail. In the end, without penalties for non-compliance, we are at the mercy of the direct mailer to honor your request. As you have proven, the current services are far from perfect.The challenge to Direct Mailers is can they work with services like Catalog Choice to self regulate or are there too many bad actors?We welcome all direct mailers to use our service at no cost! Contact us at [email protected] TellerExecutive DirectorCatalog Choice

  18. Alan Durning says:

    JY and other letter carriers,What a peculiar argument you are making: that citizens’ control over the mail delivered to their homes is less important than maintaining the USPS in its current form. First, I have no doubts that the postal service can adapt to a slimmer volume of mail. It may not employ as many letter carriers in the end, but eliminating wasteful advertising helps the profitability of retailers—which helps the economy far more than employing extra letter carriers to haul all the junk mail. The path to full employment in a green economy is not to legislate wastefulness; it is to embrace opportunities to ring waste out of the system. Waste is money, waiting to be more gainfully invested. Arguing that unfettered junk mailing privileges for merchants and others—and against citizen choice in what they receive—is worth doing simply because it will secure fuller employment for letter carriers is logically akin to arguing for toxic pollution in order to employ more chemical factory workers. Or for climate change, in order to employ more oil drillers. Or for war, in order to employ more weapons makers.And the notion that the USPS will collapse if we empower citizens to de-spam their mail boxes strikes me as overly pessimistic.Chuck,It’s occurred to me that some of the good actors who use your service might be a great resource for making the case. Specifically, removing people from their lists who don’t want to receive mail will have the effect of improving their “hit” rates and, therefore, their profitability. Have you heard any stories along those lines from your merchant partners?Alan

  19. Sea Wolf says:

    I’ve always wondered what law or regulation (or lack thereof) enables a private company to toss an unsolicited phone book on your front steps. I can see the logic that phone users might want a phone book, but I don’t see how this gives anyone the right to throw something on your property. Homeowners might want to feed their garden plants. So can a hog farmer throw bags of pig sh*t on your front steps because he—not you—beleive you might want to feed your garden plants? I don’t get it.

  20. Maggie says:

    So glad to see Catalog Choice staff here in the comments. I would like to add Pottery Barn to the list of egregious violators. It has been more than a year since I requested to no longer receive their catalogs. Because I am still getting catalogs from PB and all its siblings and cousins, I’ve called customer service twice. I just got another catalog in the mail last week. This is particularly galling, given their efforts to present themselves as “green”.

  21. Felicia Eggleston says:

    Will Craven of ForestEthics, along with others who are pushing for a legally-mandated, government-enforced “Do Not Mail” registry, may believe in good faith that such a registry would do what they want it to do, and that its benefits would outweigh its costs. But they are wrong. Those opposed to having state and/or federal “Do Not Mail” registries imposed by law are correct to cite the economic harm that would follow. But the economic harm it could cause isn’t limited to the jobs potentially lost by hundreds of thousands of Americans working in the mailing industry and in businesses that support/rely on the mailing industry. Neither is the economic harm limited to the hastened demise of the U.S. Postal Service, which is struggling mightily to continue to fulfill its constitutional mandate to bind the nation and provide universal mail service at affordable prices to ALL Americans (even those who don’t have computers or who live in remote areas where other services aren’t available). Maybe you don’t care if your local Post office has to be closed, or if your letter carrier comes fewer days per week, or if the cost to send packages – regardless of which package delivery service is used – doubles or triples because there are no longer postal carriers going to every address six days a week. But there are a lot of people who DO care, and a “Do Not Mail” registry could well be the straw that breaks the USPS’s back and makes it impossible for those who value postal services and products to afford or access them any more. In fact, I bet you didn’t know that the Postal Service currently partners with both UPS and FedEx in certain areas to deliver THEIR packages “the last mile” – so when there aren’t carriers available to deliver packages to those addresses, the cost of sending them will skyrocket. You may also not have known that unlike its package service competitors, the Postal Service is limited to annual increases no greater than the CPI (Consumer Price Index). Most people aren’t even aware that the Postal Service gets NO taxpayer funding for its operations—it relies on the revenue generated by the sale of its products and services. And in the current economy, what had been a steady decrease in the volume of letter mail over the past few years became a steep drop-off. There is no such thing as a free lunch, and a “Do Not Mail” registry would not be “free.” Who do you think will fund the infrastructure necessary to create a comprehensive “Do Not Mail” registry? Taxpayers will, that’s who. The funding for “Do Not Mail” registries will come straight out of your pockets and mine through our state and/or federal taxes. Yes, some of the “Do Not Mail” bills introduced at the state level(none successfully) over the past few years contemplated a registration fee for consumer users, but there is no way user fees will cover the cost of creating, administering, and enforcing a comprehensive “Do Not Mail” registry. Is that how our public funds should be spent in the current environment? And why does anyone think a government-run registry would work better than existing mail preference services? Because of the threat of government enforcement? How many resources do you think most state governments—or the federal government, for that matter—are going to be willing to dedicate to enforcing a “Do Not Mail” registry, given all of the vastly more important programs competing for funding in this economy? So, what’s the big benefit to come from a registry—the environmental benefit (which is overstated by “Do Not Mail” proponents)? Check out the EPA studies on municipal waste for statistics that show that advertising mail is 2.4 percent of landfill in the United States. That’s not inconsequential, but this percentage has actually DECREASED over time. And the energy and carbon emissions attributable to the mail received annually by an average household are comparable to the emissions created by the operation of any of several common home appliances over the same period (ex: using a coffee maker for an hour every day for a year, or using a dishwasher three times a week for a year). Is the big benefit to consumers? There are already many means available to consumers to reduce the amount of advertising mail they receive, and none of them cost taxpayers a dime. Does it require some time on the part of the consumer who wants to use the services or contact companies directly? Yes. And maybe some people are willing to pay – via taxes or directly – for the government to operate similar services. But the “89 percent of Americans support a ‘Do Not Mail’ registry” claim made by registry proponents is a real stretch. The 2007 Zogby survey on which that claim is based consisted of asking 1,011 people in a telephone survey (don’t you love getting those calls?), “How likely are you to use a free and quick opt-out resource that would eliminate most of your unsolicited ad mail?” The question assumes that: 1) the registry would be FREE, 2) registry users would get QUICK results, and 3) the registry would eliminate MOST unsolicited ad mail. However, there is no such thing as a FREE registry (the existing most reliable, well-established registries cost users a dollar, or nothing at all, but not a penny of taxpayer money is used to maintain them). There is also no reason to believe that a government registry could offer its users quicker results than existing services – mailings are prepared and processed well in advance of the date they arrive in your mailbox, so companies can only honor your request with respect to mailings that have not already been prepared and processed – and that takes a few weeks at best. Finally, even a government-run registry could not – as the Zogby question confirms – eliminate all of the unsolicited advertising mail sent to consumers who sign up on the registry. The net result would be little if any different than the net result consumers can expect now using existing resources. And existing resources don’t rely on taxpayer funds, don’t further injure an already struggling industry that employs hundreds of thousands of people, and don’t limit the affordable communication options available to every person and business in this country, no matter how large or small, wealthy or poor, urban or rural.Everything you and I do every day has some sort of environmental impact. Blogging has an impact; so does surfing the net, sending a letter, driving a car, preparing a meal, listening to a song on your iPod, flushing the toilets, taking a showers, ordering a “Green Guide to Living” online and its journey to reach you, using a hairdryer and batteries and light bulbs and PDAs and computers and cell phones, and then disposing of them when they stop working or become obsolete (or you just don’t like them anymore). Advertising mail is one of a number of ways businesses can choose to reach customers and potential customers to build their businesses, which fuel a healthy economy, which makes it possible for us to do and have all those things in the first place. Let s/he who is without PDA* cast the first vote for a “Do Not Mail” registry. [* or car, or computer, or FedEx account, or cell phone, or coffee maker, or…]

  22. Alan Durning says:

    Sea Wolf, That’s funny!Maggie,A woman who identified herself as working in Eddie Bauer’s Office of the President just phoned—to reinforce that EB has taken me off the mailing list. I guess writing a blog post is a little more effective than using Catalog Choice, eh? And this after Michael (above) already took me off the list. And after (AS I NOTED ABOVE IN THE POST) I had already phoned EB and got my name removed. I’m really, really, really off the mailing list now.Maybe the way to get PB’s attention is to publish an article that mentions them? Then they’ll take you off the list three times.Felicia Eggleston,The sky is not going to fall because of a Do Not Mail registry, any more than from the Do Not Call registry already in place in the United States.The USPS operated for a very, very long time without delivering me 50 pounds of junk mail a year. I expect it will survive a Do Not Mail registry just fine. And operating the Do Not Call registry is quite cheap, as would be operating a Do Not Mail registry.Plus, the only way out of our economic meltdown is to liberate ourselves from wasteful old ways. It will likely increase the profitability of advertising mail, by purging from mailing lists those of us who don’t want want—AND DON’T RESPOND TO!!—ad mail.A Do Not Mail registry is not a ban—or even an increased postage rate—on advertising mail. It lets citizens decide whether they want to get so many advertisements in their post boxes.

  23. Maggie says:

    Alan and the nice Catalog Choice folks,Reading Alan’s post and other’s comments motivated me to go through my pile of catalogs and update on Catalog choice. I just thought I’d share my total: 184 catalogs declined so far. This isn’t really 184 separate retailers, because it includes ones addressed to multiple versions of my own name, my husband, and combinations thereof. As I worked on this over the last couple of years? I’ve come to the conclusion that the more I buy, the more catalogs I get. The direct mail supporters/Chicken Littles may want to consider this: I will stop buying things just to stop the catalogs.

  24. Daniel Henderson says:

    Thanks for writing this Alan. I’m glad I’m not the only one building a house out of airline credit card offers. And Comcast, Qwest and Clear are waging an all-out war for our internet service business. We get one of their mailers at least once a week.I think about this every time I pull a fistful of mail out of the mailbox and recycle upwards of 90% of it. The first thing that comes to mind is security issues. We have to shred everything with personal info on it, and I think that once you shred paper it can no longer be recycled. Either way, we recycle more than we throw out anymore and a lot of it by weight is this paper.The second is that, as a marketer, companies would do well to note those who do not buy so often and cut back or eliminate their catalogs or mailers. They only expect a 2% return, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t skim some of the proven non-returners off, especially after a certain period of time that makes sense to the life cycle of their products. How about the 2% least likely to order? How about asking in the catalog if we would like to switch to emailed offers? How about dropping names they bought off of a list and weren’t necessarily interested in the first place after three mailers? If I want something nowadays I go to the internet, not a catalog. A link will get most of us there faster than paper, and it’s also waste reduction.As for the other junk mail—non-profits that my wife donated to once a few years ago that actually have “DO NOT SNAIL MAIL” typed in as a line in the address, and especially credit card offers—I do what someone suggested a long time ago: fold it all up, stick it all in the postage-paid return envelope, and send it back to them. It doesn’t cost them much to have a robot that doesn’t read your address print a digital copy and send it off, but they have to physically deal with incoming mail that, one would think, goes to a person. Seems like someone would notice after a few returns packed with everything they sent and “PLEASE TAKE ME OFF YOUR MAILING LIST” in black sharpie with an arrow pointing to said line in the address. I understand that there is something like a ten week delay even if you did successfully unsubscribe because of these things being planned months before they actually go out. In the meantime it’s a nice stress reliever that helps keeps the Post Office in business!Daniel

  25. sliver says:

    Alan, Yes, the USPS did operate for a very long time before delivering 50lbs of junk mail each year. Of course that was before the general public stopped sending first class mail. The junk mail is what keeps the postal service in business. The so called junk mail subsidizes all the other classes of mail. No junk mail = no USPS. I understand wanting to be environmentally conscious.. but you’re barking up the wrong tree here. Most paper comes from tree farms. It’s renewable and recyclable. It’s no more harmful to the environment than eating your daily vegetables.

  26. Tanya says:

    I can’t believe how many people support the junk mail industry and sincerely seem to believe that our economy will collapse without it! Our economy did not collapse when people were given the freedom to sign up for “do not call” lists, despite the fact that thousands of people made a living off of interrupting dinners with phone solicitations. In fact, not EVERY American opted for the “do not call” plan, and many people are still employed in the telemarketing industry. I am sure that a large number of people will continue to happily receive catalogues. Rather than justifying environmentally destructive business practices for the sake of the economy, we should find ways to replace those practices with less destructive ones. DO NOT MAIL LIST DOES NOT EQUAL APOCALYPSE!

  27. Michelle says:

    I’m glad the letter carriers are chiming in. Because, they’re answering a question I’ve always wanted to ask them, but never did, since I assumed I already knew the answer. The question was: Don’t letter carriers detest being weighed down by all that junk mail, which they’re delivering to thousands (millions?) of people who don’t even want that kind of mail?I assumed their answer would be “Yes, definitely.”Boy, was that assumption off by a mile!

  28. Margotb says:

    At http://www.stopthejunkmail.com we have always been for consumer preference of catalogs and junk mail. Alan, I think you hit the nail on the head when you said in your notes how you consider REI to be junk mail but Backpacker not to be. Everyone has preferences when it comes to direct mail. It’s like a garage sale, one persons junk is another persons treasure. Lots of consumers look forward to getting a particular catalogs each month. There are others who consider all direct mail junk. You can not consider your statements from banks and other affiliated organizations junk. Things you sign up for are not junk, but once you sign up for one that company may sell your name to another and so on. Be careful what you wish for. Our services are not trying to put anyone out of business or jobs, we are just offering up a fair way to censor mail before it gets to the mailbox.There is also so much more to the “Do Not Mail” legislations and registry. We had a member the other day who said her mail carrier was annoyed because she reduced her 140 catalogs a week down to 2. He is worried about his job. My personal belief is that the USPS would have to be privatized in order to have any affect on direct mail. Privatization would mean a hefty increase in costs and would force direct mail companies into advertising online (which they do already). But is is plausible?Preference is what we are after, not total elimination, as are most consumers. It’s all about being able to have control of your mailbox.

  29. April Smith says:

    Alan,Since Chuck is on vacation, I’ll take the liberty of answering your question for him. Yes, we hear from many of our participating companies that they appreciate our service because it reduces waste & costs on their side. Postal rates have gone up considerably, and Catalog Choice is one tool that a merchant has to enhance the value of their mailing list and improve their customer service. Some of the best actors out there—Crate & Barrel and Room & Board, for example (and there are many more), understand these business benefits. They know that giving the consumer a convenient and clear choice about what they receive in the mail (and how often) is good business practice. We wish all mailers would view consumer preference as a competitive advantage—good for the consumer, the environment, and the bottom line. There is more work that needs to be done, but we continue to make progress. If the industry doesn’t unify around a voluntary approach and make it effective, however, you can see how advocacy groups stand to make the case for Do Not Mail legislation (a far worse proposition for direct mailers and the Postal Service). The message to the direct mail industry? Use and comply with the voluntary programs available to you. We really appreciate the consumer (and merchant) feedback we receive. Keep the input coming our way. -April SmithManaging DirectorCatalog Choice

  30. Felicity Eggleston says:

    Interesting how my comments have been interpreted in such a way as to make my concern about a “Do Not Mail” registry seem so overblown – an apocalypse?! Please. I said no such thing, and I believe no such thing. A Do Not Mail registry would not be the end of the Postal Service or the mailing industry. But its impact could be significantly more harsh and broadly harmful than its proponents want anyone to think. Comparing the Do Not Call registry and its impact to a potential Do Not Mail registry and its potential impact is comparing apples to oranges. For one thing, there was no established, reliable means of opting out of telephone solicitations, other than to make (mostly futile) attempts to track down the source of the call. So the Do Not Call registry met a need that wasn’t being met. [Interestingly, for those who aren’t aware, the FTC contracted with the Direct Marketing Association – that’s right, the DMA – to set up and administer the Do Not Call registry. So if you think the Do Not Call registry is a success, remember that it was based on the DMA’s own, non-taxpayer-funded DMAChoice opt-out service). For managing advertising mail, consumers have two excellent opt-out services – DMAChoice.org and the newer but up-and-coming CatalogChoice.org – as well as services such as Optoutprescreen.com, run by the major credit bureaus as a means for consumers to opt out of credit card offers and other financial solicitations. Other than providing a communications service, the phone industry (including wireless) has little in common with the transportation/logistics/manufacturing/delivery aspects of the mailing and package delivery industry. Opting out of receiving telemarketing calls did not have a broad economic impact. That would not be the case with an opt-out registry for mail. But again, the most important point is that there is NO NEED for a government opt-out registry. The private sector has already created services to meet that need. Isn’t it a better use of resources to work to empower consumers by educating them about the services currently available to them, than to spend taxpayer money to duplicate those services? Companies that use direct mail are as concerned about the money they spend as you and I are about the money we spend – and they are clearly demonstrating that they are serious about better targeting their solicitations to ensure they are directed at consumers more likely to welcome them. They provide contact information in their catalogs and on their direct mail pieces so customers who wish to discontinue such mailings can easily and quickly contact them. Consumers can manage their own mail with a variety of tools that are readily available. Should there be an expectation that companies who are told by consumers to stop sending unwanted materials will STOP? Absolutely. And the way to deal with companies who DON’T honor consumer requests is to get the word out about those specific companies, perhaps by doing something similar to what Forest Ethics did to Victoria’s Secret and Staples and others, by publicly “outing” them – NOT by using taxpayer funds to establish, implement, administer and maintain a government program that has the undeniable potential to harm an entire industry and all the people and businesses supporting it. To April’s point, the majority of those using direct mail marketing to reach consumers are using and complying with the voluntary programs available. Those who took umbrage to the derogatory messaging about direct mail on earlier iterations of Catalog Choice’s web site could hardly have been expected to embrace a service that vilified them as “junk mailers.” And companies who initially didn’t want to participate with such a service -and an unknown quantity at that – were then openly tagged on the site as uncooperative. These companies shouldn’t have been expected to automatically trust opt-out information coming from a seemingly hostile group with whom they had no business relationship or understanding. Over time that has changed. And now most businesses are embracing the “less is more” mail marketing strategy, for both cost and customer service reasons. No, not all mailers, yet… But if you haven’t seen a drop off in what’s in your mailbox over the past year even without using any of the opt-out services, you haven’t been paying attention.Choice IS what it’s all about. But it already exists. Pushing for government intervention is misguided and unnecessary.

  31. Eric Hess says:

    Felicity—Thanks for your thoughts on the issue. As Alan’s post points out, he did utilize the DMA’s tool and still received 50 pounds of junk mail in a year. Clearly, DMA’s service is not exceptionally effective. Moreover, he had to spend a significant amount of time to directly reach out to individual companies to get them to stop—even then with limited success. I think what Alan and others are looking for is a simple system, whereby you request to be remove from direct mail lists—without investing hours—and have your request be honored. It’s inefficient for everyone to have individual residents spending hours contacting individual businesses to have themselves removed from lists. A national, unified system for opting out would ultimately save everyone time and money.

  32. JLH says:

    I particularly hate all those phone books, and have tried repeatedly to opt out. One time I was home when a couple phone books were deposited on my front porch, and I ran outside and demanded the guy take them back. I told him I was on their opt out list, and he said that it’s too hard to pay attention to the list when they are out in their truck—they simply deliver to every house as fast as possible. So I think it will take government regulation to prohibit this: it should be a criminal offense with automatic fines unless the recipient specifically requests delivery.

  33. Robert says:

    This thread is pretty stale. I am curious to know how Alan Durning feels the Seattle Public Utilities Catalog Choice campaign has going over the past 2.5 years.

    I have been a vigilant user of Catalog Choice for the past two years. It has helped, but our house still gets a surprising amount of junk mail. Plus, Catalog Choice and all the other opt-out resources take effort that few people other than the likes of us will put into this issue. Is it time to find another way?

    And what about flyers and other junk mail that is deposited on our front steps and doorknobs? This is less of a waste of resources than junk mail because of its lower volume, but all those flyers and door hangers quickly “fly” away in the wind and end up as neighborhood litter. Has no one used the existing Seattle Municipal Code (21.36.410) to put a stop to this?

  34. Alan Durning says:


    Thanks for your comment. I can’t give you an informed view on the yellow-pages opt-out program. I know that many thousands of people have registered to opt out. Personally, I haven’t received a yellow pages directory since I wrote this post and opted out.

    I agree that it takes a lot of time and effort. The junk mail seems to creep back in. On January 1, I started stockpiling mine, figuring I’d do a 2012 tally to compare to the tally reported in this post. We’ll have to wait and see for the results!

    Meanwhile, Seattle’s yellow-pages opt-out program is up for court review in a week or two. This is a second round, an appeal. The lower court supported the opt-out program.

  35. John says:

    Thanks for this helpful article. It appears you may have transposed two digits in the phone number for the Seattle Times’ “Savings Source”. On the one which arrived in my mailbox yesterday, the number is as follows: 206-652-6587. I’m hoping other readers will find this number useful.

  36. Anthony says:

    I cant stand it when the cable company sends me a flier every week when I already have cable. I think that they could drastically reduce cost if they just stopped advertising to the customers they already have.I guess they really don’t care about the bottom line just dominance.

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