Most of us get a ton of junk mail. I don’t know about you, but I’m probably not going to use Mike’s Painting or Jimmy Bob’s Plumbing Services. I don’t care if I get $5 off my next large pizza. And the last time I checked, I didn’t need laser surgery or a lower APR on my Discover card. I don’t even have a Discover card.
Just moments after these little pieces of paper hit my doorstep, they’re in the trash. It would be one thing if we actually used the services or products that are advertised on them. But typically, there is only about a 2% return on direct mailing.
“We used to get so much direct mail and it was immediately put in the trash, it was such a waste,” said Margot Brown, co-owner of StopTheJunkMail.com, of why she and her husband got into the business. “We really liked the link between stopping junk mail, privacy, and saving trees. We plant a tree for each new membership with American Forests Organization.”
She said in a recent e-mail that the easiest way for any consumer to get on a mailing list is to order an item from a catalog. Once a consumer orders from that catalog, then the process begins. This is considered “opting in.” Another way for your name to get on lists is to buy a house. Your name and address is open to the public and marketers use these free services. She said “opting out” is a much harder job.
So how do I stop that ton of junk mail from ending up in my garbage can? You can always contact the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) online or by mail to request that your name be removed from direct mailing lists. But that’s just the beginning.
You will also have to reach out to your bank, your credit card company and your mortgage broker. You will also have to contact magazines you subscribe to and any mail order services you typically use. Even charity organizations you donate to will give out your information. Enter a contest or an online survey? Your information is sure to be out there for anyone to use.
“Whenever you purchase anything, it’s easy to get on these mailing lists and get passed around,” said Dave Tilford, Senior Writer at New American Dream, a company that seeks to raise awareness of the social cost of “American-style” consumerism.
Because of the sheer volume of junk mail consumers get, Tilford says people just get fed up. Organizations like the DMA have reacted to that with a pre-emptive strike. They will put you on their opt-out list so that you don’t receive junk mail.
Tilford says their philosophy is that if people don’t want the direct marketing then it’s not worth the company’s time to bother. However, there is a fee if you choose to opt out. And with a small purchase rate from direct mail, that fee may be more advantageous than the fliers they mail in the first place.
Unfortunately, the onus is on you, the consumer. You didn’t ask for these little bits of paper. You don’t want these little bits of paper. But in order to stop them, you have to make a great effort to do so. And, all that effort means you will reduce the amount you get. But, you won’t eliminate it.
“There’s a lot of misinformation in the media,” said Carolyn Brown, Founder of GreenWave Strategies, a marketing firm for green businesses. “People think that if they contact the DMA, that’s enough. But they’re just a trade association. Contacting them won’t get all of it.”
Brown’s company is also the marketing firm for 41pounds, an organization the works to reduce your junk mail by 80% to 95%. They will contact direct mail companies for you so you don’t have to.
According to their web site, there are approximately 4 million tons of junk mail produced and processed every year. About 100 million trees are destroyed and 28 billion gallons of water is wasted creating that junk mail. The greenhouse gas emissions expelled in the production of junk mail is equivalent to the gas emissions from 9 million cars. Over $300 million of local taxes are spent to dispose of junk mail each year. And even more alarming, there is the possibility that the credit card applications and other junk mail we receive may be used in identity theft and fraud.
The company, 41pounds, chose their name based on the amount of junk mail the average American receives annually. That equals about 560 pieces. Almost half of the junk mail are sent to landfills unopened. Their services cost $41 for a five-year term. That averages about 70 cents per month. Other companies that offer the same service typically have an annual fee.
But why bother? Isn’t junk mail just another annoying part of life we’ve come to accept? According to an article in The New York Times dated November 2, 2006, some people like to see what they get in their mail box. “If it says, ‘We’ll save you money,’ of course you’re going to look at it,” said Andrew Shivone, a high school teacher in San Antonio, as quoted by The New York Times. “I pretty much throw them out, but I have no problem with getting it. They have those demographic lists, and it’s funny to see what lists I get on.”
While it’s sad but true, Brown says, “Most people accept junk mail. 41pounds says you have a choice and you can protect forests at the same time.”
The organization donates $15 from every customer’s fee to charity organizations like Trees for the Future. Brown says from the beginning the company was set up to support the environment.
“A lot of the stuff we consume is detrimental to our way of life,” said Tilford, whose company partnered with 41pounds a few years ago. “We need to assess our habits and be conscious consumers.”
So the next time you get a catalogue or a coupon pack, think how many trees were destroyed before it landed in your mail box. Then, think about what you’d like to do about it.
Photo courtesy of The New York Times.