Just as I was finishing up this blog, I went out to my mailbox and there was my mailman. I told him I was writing a blog about how to get rid of junk mail and he invited me to take a photo of the inside of his truck. As he drove off, he stopped the truck and said, “One last thing. We aren’t allowed to call it ‘junk mail.’ We call it ‘bulk business mail.’”
Whatever fancy name you give it, it’s still junk mail. According to 41pounds.org, the average American gets 41 pounds (560 pieces) of unwanted junk mail each year, or 4 million tons. A whopping 44% of that goes into the landfill unopened. In environmental terms, this equates to 100 million trees, 28 billion (yes billion with a “b”) gallons of water wasted, and the equivalent of 9 million cars’ worth of global warming gases. You and I pay $320 million in local taxes to get rid of this junk; money that, as 41pounds.org says, could go to “providing parks, libraries, health care and other valuable services." That junk mail can also be used for identity fraud.
Although my mailman didn't know how to get rid of junk mail (and said he wished he did, because he gets it, too), I did some investigation. While you may not be able to stop everything the Post Office is paid to deliver to you, you aren't entirely powerless, either. Here are some things you can control - and how to control them:
Pre-Screened Offers from Credit Cards and Insurance Companies
You can opt out from these for five years by calling toll-free 1-888-5-OPT-OUT (1-888-567-8688) or visit www.optoutprescreen.com. This is run by major consumer reporting companies. If you want to opt out permanently, use the same URL, www.optoutprescreen.com. You’ll have to fill out and return a signed Permanent Opt-Out Election form, which they will send to you. I did this several years ago and I haven't received anything, since.
For both options, you need to provide personal info, like your name, Social Security number, date of birth and home phone number. This is confidential and is needed to process your opt out form.
Several years ago, the US government started the Do Not Call Registry, which is billed as a “free, easy way to reduce the telemarketing calls you get at home.” You register your phone number (both landline and cell phone) at www.donotcall.gov, or call 1-888-382-1222 from the number you want to register. The government claims that you will get fewer calls within 31 days of registering. I have to be honest – I registered my phone number six years ago and I’m still getting scam calls and texts. The government allows you to register these complaints on their website , where you report details of the call, including day, time, and if you had ever had dealings with the company. You will later get a follow-up email stating that your info has been received, but that the government does not investigate each incident, despite warning that unsolicited calls carry penalties. It will stop legitimate companies from contacting you, which is better than nothing.
Another way of opting out of unsolicited mail is through the Direct Marketing Associations Mail Preference Service. By signing up, you're put on a “delete” file and are exempt for five years. This is supposed to reduce most of the unsolicited mail, but not from organizations that don’t use this service. Again, it’s better than nothing. You can register at www.dmachoice.org, or mail in a request with a $1 processing fee to:
Direct Marketing Association
P.O. Box 643
Carmel, NY 10512
A free service that I have used in the past is catalogchoice.org. You use this to opt out of unwanted mail and phone books (does anyone actually still use those?). Simply look up the name of the catalog/company/phone book, and then fill in your name, address, the catalog or customer number, and the key or source code as it appears on the mailer. Some companies require that you go to their website to finalize the opt-out and Catalog Choice takes you there, directly. Doctors Foster and Smith made me go to chat with their rep, but it took less than one minute to do. Brookstone even asked me why I was opting out. I chose “I want to help the environment.” The request went through immediately, but you may not see the opt out immediately. Some systems take a few weeks. And some companies may not agree to the opt out.
If you want to opt out of unwanted emails from companies in compliance with the Direct Marketing Association, you can register at www.dmachoice.org. This is free to use and will keep you off the lists for five years. Another good resource, which my fellow evox staff suggested is unroll.me to get your email off of subscription lists. It just scans your inbox and finds your subscriptions. For my personal email, they found a whopping 36 subscriptions I didn’t even know I had. They then create a list and you choose which ones to unsubscribe from. Super easy!
Spring Cleaning is all about getting rid of the junk in your life - include junk mail in that. You'll be helping to save the environment, tax money, and your own sanity.