A green post box on the side of a building, used to deal with junk mail.

How to deal with junk mail

It can be quite frustrating to have all your zero waste hacks and tricks in place and then feel like your efforts are ruined by a big pile of junk mail. Because yes, some brands haven’t fully realised it’s 2017 which means that paper advertising is a bit out-of-date as well as a huge waste of paper (not to mention those who send useless plastic goodies in them).

In the UK, an estimated 12 billion pieces of junk mail[1]Stop Junk Mail — Quick facts are distributed to UK households and businesses annually. That is the equivalent to between 4.6 and 6.1 million trees.

What can you do about it?

Well, the solution is as simple as sending the mail back to the sender. Easy, right?! I feel a bit dumb for not having thought about it until I read “Zero Waste Home” from Bea Johnson. I’d recommend to first have a look at your local policies regarding returned mail, to make sure it actually ends up back to the sender.

My not-so-good debuts at dealing with junk mail

People, I have a confession to make. The first time I decided to return my junk mail, I walked to the post office with my pile of letters and put it in the letterbox. I then went on with my life, with a delightful sense of accomplished duty. Well, man, great was my surprise when I got it all back in my letterbox two days later.

Very technical guide to returning junk mail

  • So make sure to cross out your address on the envelope when you send mail back. That is the very minimum you need to do. Then also add “unsolicited mail, please return to sender” to make sure your message gets across. They have no interest in annoying you anyways, so the message will be heard. Most of them will just remove you from their list, even if it might take a few letters for them to get the message.
  • If you’re still getting mail from the previous person living at your place, either simply let that person know about it or send it back to the sender if you don’t know the person. For doing so you just need to cross the address and write “not known at this address, please return to sender” on it. If it doesn’t have any return address on it, write “misdelivered to”. That way you notice the company or person, that the person doesn’t live here anymore.
  • In some cases, you can just prevent junk mail from happening by acting from the source: make sure you specify you don’t want to get mail every time you subscribe to a new service, shop,… And encourage them to email you instead if they want to send a catalogue or such things.

It might seem insignificant, but doing such a thing is telling the advertiser that you don’t want to receive mail, and that you wish it stopped. It is, in fact, nothing less than a vote.

The production of junk mail in the US uses 100 million trees annually [2]Get Too Much Junk Mail? – New York State and if all the junk mail received in a year were saved up, it would equal 1½ trees. This highlights the environmental cost of junk mail.

Electronic Opt-Out Services: Your First Line of Defense

Before the physical battle begins, let’s arm ourselves digitally. The internet, that sprawling web of connectivity, offers more than just cat videos and memes; it’s a fortress against unwanted mail. Services like DMAchoice, Catalog Choice, and OptOutPrescreen are akin to your digital knights, ready to charge at your command and remove your name from national mailing lists with a few clicks. Imagine, with just a bit of digital legwork, you can significantly reduce the onslaught of paper invaders. It’s like casting a protective spell around your mailbox!

Contacting Credit Reporting Agencies: The Secret Weapon

Did you know that your mailbox barrage often originates from the dark caverns of credit reporting agencies? These entities, while crucial for your financial journey, can unwittingly make you a target for a barrage of credit offers and marketing ploys. The trick here is simple yet profound: by contacting these agencies directly, you can request to be removed from their marketing lists. It’s like telling the dragon guarding the treasure, “Not today, I choose peace.” This act alone can drastically reduce the amount of junk mail you receive, liberating your mailbox from the clutches of credit offer overload.

Recycling Programs for Junk Mail: Turning the Tide

Now, for the inevitable—some junk mail will still breach your defenses. When it does, recycling is your environmentally friendly sword to wield. Yet, not all recycling programs are created equal. Some require you to remove plastic windows from envelopes or sort paper types. It’s a small effort with a big impact, transforming your unwanted mail into a resource rather than waste. Imagine, your junk mail could live a second life as a recycled masterpiece, all because you took the time to prepare it for recycling properly. It’s an eco-warrior’s dream!

Image source: Markus Winkler — thank you.