Junk mail is not only annoying, it’s also environmentally damaging. From the trees that are cut down to produce it, to the energy used to delivery it, to the space it takes up in our landfills once it is no longer used (let’s face it, not everyone recycles), junk mail comes at a high cost both to advertiser, the recipients and the planet. Indeed, it’s a non-negligible contributor to climate change if you consider that, according to TreeHugger.com, junk mail’s annual carbon footprint is equal to that of seven U.S. states combined. However, evidence suggests that paper advertising is 5 times more effective than email, which means that unless we take concerted action, it is an annoyance that will not go away on its own.
By refusing to receive unwanted advertising, you send a powerful signal to industry to stop (or at least reduce) the number of flyers produced, thereby saving precious resources. And, by the same token, you’re less tempted to drive to Wendy’s or upgrade your entire kitchen if you don’t receive the coupon in the first place, which will save you money too.
The solution to junk mail may be relatively straightforward or really complex, depending on where you live. For Canadian residents, all you have to do is put up a notice, maybe fill out an online form if you’re so inclined. If you’re an American, however, the process is much more involved and convoluted. Citizens of other countries may fall somewhere in between. Read on to find out what you can do.
If you live in Canada, eliminating junk mail is actually quite simple to do. According our national carrier, Canada Post, simply put a note on your mailbox stating that you do not wish to receive Canada Post Neighbourhood Mail.
Place the note in or on your mailbox, or on the inside lip of your community mailbox, group mailbox or postal box. Here is a short list of the types of materials you can expect to stop receiving:
- Retail flyers and restaurant menus,
- Free product samples and coupons,
- Unaddressed magazines and store catalogues,
- Notices from non-profit organisations, and
- Offers from banking institutions and telecommunication services.
You won’t entirely stop receiving unaddressed mail. Here are the exceptions:
- Community newspapers,
- Mailings in the public (as opposed to commercial) interest from government departments/agencies at federal, provincial, territorial, municipal levels and band councils,
- Materials from Elections Canada, provincial/territorial chief electoral officers and municipal election officials (or the deputy returning officer), including material from political parties and electoral,
- candidates during an election, and
- Any addressed mail, including addressed advertising materials.
Your notice does not need to be formal, you can easily stick a handwritten Post It note or write on some scrap paper. Or, if you prefer something neater, you can use this free No Junk Mail Please printable template that I have made; simply print it and stick it in or on your mailbox. It even has an “Except” line, in case you really look forward to your local grocery store’s flyers (or pizza vouchers).
Our friends from in the Province of Québec can also use the following French sign for additional effectiveness. Eh oui, mes chers amis francophones, je ne vous ai pas oublié; voici votre propre enseigne pour votre boîte aux lettres.
You can increase your impact by sharing this post with your family, friends, neighbours, and colleagues on your favourite social media sites. While you’re at it, you can even leave a few printed copies on your community bulletin board, near your community mailbox, or at other public places like your local library.
You can take this one step further by having your name removed from specific business mailing lists. You will have to contact individual businesses and charities from which you no longer wish to receive Addressed Admail materials and ask to be removed from their lists. However this can be time consuming.
Another approach is to opt out of all business mailing lists, by writing to the Canadian Marketing Association and asking them to remove you from their databases by submitting your to request online. This is not a permanent solution — your request has to be renewed every 3 years or whenever you move — but it’s a very good start.
United States of America
A variety of sources have written about stopping the delivery of junk mail to residents of the United States, including the Washington Post, Huffington Post, and the New York Times, among others. What becomes immediately clear is that it is not as straightforward a process as one might like and there is no single solution.
Unfortunately, there is no requirement in the US for letter carriers or private distributors of paper advertisements to skip your home when delivering junk mail, and most forums I have come across suggest that signs on US mailboxes simply get ignored. The reason for this is that companies pay the postal service to deliver the flyers; not delivering the ads would put them in breach of contract.
You still have options to opt out if you live in the US, they will just require more work. For instance, consider writing to the Direct Marketing Association’s and request to have your name removed from their database.the largest U.S. data and marketing association. The DMA includes nonprofits and others who market goods and services directly to consumers.
To unsubscribe, the association developed the DMAchoice, an online tool developed to help Americans manage their mail. The site is part of a larger program designed to respond to consumers’ concerns over the amount of mail they receive, and it is the evolution of the Association of National Advertisers Mail Preference Service created in 1971. The DMAchoice site allows you to manage your mailing preferences for four categories of mail offers: Credit Offers, Catalogues, Magazine Offers and Other Mail Offers. You can request to start or stop receiving mail from individual companies within each category — or from an entire category at once.
Be aware, unsubscribing from the DMA is not free – the program costs $2 USD, but will block unwanted DMA mail for 10 years.
Alternatively, you can stop receiving Valpak ‘s blue envelopes, which are filled with coupons and ads from local contractors and companies. Doing so won’t cost you a dime, but it may take some time and a few clicks.
There’s also the option of using Catalog Choice to unsubscribe from junk mail. It takes time to unsubscribe from each mailer you receive, but it is reported as being quite effective.
For any ads that are addressed to you directly and that have slipped through the cracks, you can write directly to the companies, or charities, and ask them directly to stop sending you ads.
While I don’t have have first hand experience putting up “no junk mail” signs in other countries, my research suggests that a mailbox sign may be somewhat or very effective in places such as the UK, France (“Stop Pub”), Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Germany, Australia, and New Zealand, although there may be more. Given this, I encourage everyone to put up their own signs, or the one I have shared in this post, to attempt to reduce or eliminate their unwanted junk as well.
I have created this map to easily identify countries in which the no junk mail signage works, and I will update it as discover more locations.
Junk mail is more than a mere annoyance; it has a real cost on the environment and creates unwanted work for the receiver who must take time to process it. It can also nudge people into thinking they need a product or service when they would otherwise have avoided it altogether. Instead of putting up with this nuisance, let us opt out by whatever means necessary. Depending on where you live, this may be a simple or complex, but in either case, it can be done and it is worthwhile and the printable included in this post can help.
So tell me, have you been successful in eliminating junk mail from your life? Do you live in a country different from the one mentioned in the post? What other resources have you used to help you opt out. Alternatively, what are the advertisements that you wish to keep receiving and why? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and don’t forget to put up your sign and share this post to increase its reach and impact.