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How to Eliminate Junk Mail

1003_Home_Style_clutter_papersJunk mail creates clutter, is a significant time-waster, and a profound waste of paper and resources. Here’s how to reduce the unnecessary pile in your mailbox. From Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life by Reducing Your Waste.

I no longer run to my mailbox to look for the latest home goods catalog; now I count how many mail pieces I have landed and have to fight. The number has declined over time, but I still receive a couple of pieces per week, the origin of which is usually indiscernible. Eradicating junk mail is a just cause: in the long run it saves time, money, and resources, not to mention frustrations. To declare your own war on junk mail, first, be proactive:

• Give out your contact information only when absolutely necessary. Product warranty cards, for example, are not required but are used to collect data about your consumption habits and target direct mail. When you must provide personal information, write or say: “Do not rent, sell, share, or trade my name or address.”

• Remove your address from personal checks.

• When moving, opt for a temporary change of address. The permanent one is shared with local marketing lists.

• Go to DMAchoice.org to stop direct mail.

• Go to OptOutPrescreen.com to stop credit card and insurance offers.

• Go to YellowPagesOptOut.com to stop receiving the phone directory.

Now, examine the contents of your mailbox. Starting today, attack each item as it comes in. Become a junk mail detective.

• Commercial catalogs: Go to CatalogChoice.org (they cancel catalogs for you) or call the catalogs directly. I opted out and I have never been happier with my personal sense of decorating and celebrating.

• First-class mail: Do not open the unwanted letter. Its postage includes return service; you can write “Refused—Return to sender” and “Take me off your mailing list” on the front of the unopened envelope. I keep a pen in my mailbox for that specific purpose.

• Mail addressed to the previous resident: Fill out a U.S. Postal Service change-of-address card for each previous resident. In lieu of a new address, write: “Moved, no forwarding address.” In the signature area, sign your name and write “Form filled by current resident of home [your name], agent for the above.” Hand the form to your carrier or postal clerk.

• For standard/third-class presorted mail: Do not open those that mention “return service requested,” “forwarding service requested,” “change service requested,” or “address service requested.” These postages also include return service, so here, too, you can write “Refused—Return to sender” and “Take me off your mailing list” on the front of an unopened envelope.

Otherwise, open the letter, look for contact info, then call/email/write to be taken off the mailing list. These items typically include promotional flyers, brochures, and coupon packs. Make sure to also request that your name or address not be sold, rented, shared, or traded.

• Bulk mail: Inexpensive bulk mailing, used for items such as community education catalogs, allows advertisers to mail to all homes in a carrier route. It is not directly addressed to a specific name or address but to “local” or “postal customer,” and is therefore most difficult to stop. A postal supervisor told me that my carrier had to deliver them and that he could take them back when refused, but since the postage does not include return service, the mailman would simply throw the mail away with no further action. The best way to reduce the production of such mailings is to contact the senders directly and convince them to either choose a different type of postage or adopt Internet communication instead. In the case of community-born mailing, one could also persuade his/her city council to boycott the postage preference. But ideally, the U.S. Postal Service would not even provide this wasteful option.

If these steps are too much for you to handle at once, you can let 41pounds.org or CatalogChoice.org handle the bulk of it for a fee. And when your best efforts fail at stopping a specific mailing, you can resort to the U.S. Postal Service’s PS Form 1500: It declares that “Under the Pandering Advertisements Statute, 39 USC 3008, if you are the addressee of an advertisement, and consider the matter (product or service) that it offers for sale to be ‘erotically arousing or sexually provocative,’ you can obtain a Prohibitory Order against the mailer.” Don’t let big words intimidate or stop you; your opinion of “sexually oriented” material is at your sole discretion and will not be questioned. Today this USPS form may be our last recourse against the peskiest junk mail.

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