Nine million cars, seven U.S. states combined, or the emissions generated by heating nearly 13 million homes for the winter: That's junk mail's carbon contribution toward climate change, according to a report (pdf) by ForestEthics, which was released as part of their campaign and petition for a Do Not Mail Registry to give Americans the choice to stop receiving junk mail.
Signing the petition is a good first step toward putting a stop to the 100 billion pieces of junk mail that we collectively receive each year. But since the registry has yet to become legislation -- despite the support of big names like Leonardo DiCaprio, Adrian Grenier, David Crosby and Daryl Hannah -- here are (at least) seven ways to opt out of receiving junk mail for good.
Mark Junk Mail "Return to Sender" and Send It Back
If it's obvious that the junk mail solicitation or pre-approval doesn't need to be opened, you can just write "Return to Sender" on the envelope and drop it back in the mail. If you open it, and find that it's junk that you don't want, you can use the pre-paid return envelope often included with the mailing to send it back, along with a polite but firm request to remove you from the mailing list.
- Pros: It's free, and doesn't take much time or effort to execute.
- Cons: The junk mail still gets printed and mailed, so this method doesn't necessarily reduce the volume of junk, at least right away. It's also not guaranteed to get you off junk mailing lists.
Read more: Stop Junk Mail from Planet Green
Take Opting Out and Stopping Junk Mail Into Your Own Hands
Combining a handful of actions can take a big bite out of the volume of junk mail you receive, and all it takes is some legwork and diligence. Contacting the Direct Marketing Association, calling coupon companies, and contacting the credit reporting industry to ask them each to remove your name, and other vital information, from their lists can get you started down the path to junk mail freedom. Global Stewards has a solid list of other actions worth considering.
- Pros: It's free to opt out from these junk mail lists; the most it'll cost is a stamp if you have to send your request in writing.
- Cons: It takes a lot of legwork -- and the willingness to do it again in a few months -- to get your name off the necessary lists (and keep it off). Be prepared to click, call, and write multiple times a year to keep the flow of junk mail to a minimum.
Stop Junk Mail Catalogs by Opting Out with Catalog Choice
According to Environmental Defense, the catalog industry produces billions of copies of catalogs each year -- 59 for every man, woman, and child in the United States, according to their calculations. That's where Catalog Choice comes in. Using a process similar to a "do not call" list, they help keep unwanted catalogs from showing up at your door.
- Pros: Another free service, and you can do it immediately online.
- Cons Catalog distributors are not required to comply with the opt-out list as they are with government-sponsored ones, so there's no iron-clad guarantee that you'll stem the tide of catalogs to your door.
Stop Junk Mail with ProQuoProQuo is another free online-based service that helps you remove yourself from the most-commonly used marketing and direct-mailing lists, including coupons and weekly circulars, telemarketing lists, and other directories.
- Pros: It's free, and you have a lot of options to choose from -- which organizations get to keep your name (if you want them to), for example. You can also download and print a form to use for organizations that require a written request.
- Cons: Though it covers many bases, ProQuo alone may not totally do the job, since there are so many junk mail avenues, so it may work best in tandem with other services.
Stop Junk Mail by Opting Out with GreenDimes
GreenDimes goes after direct marketing and mailing lists -- they have over 4,500 contacts they track -- on your behalf, reducing the volume of junk mail that shows up in your mailbox by up to 90 percent. Depending on whether or not you want to pay for it, they offer different levels of service: The free version offers catalog removal and do-it-yourself tools to get off various lists; the paid service offers greater control, regular monitoring, and even some trees planted on your behalf. And, GreenDimes is paying each of the first 5 million customers who sign up $1 for their trouble.
- Pros: Three service levels -- one free, two paid -- let you choose the level of service that best fits your needs. And, the paid levels include perks like free tree-planting in your name.
- Cons: It costs a bit of cash -- a one-time fee of either $20 or $36 -- to get the most comprehensive services.
Get Rid Yourself of Junk Mail with 41pounds.org
Pledging to cut the flow of junk to your mailbox by 80 - 95 percent, 41pounds.org takes their name from the accrued weight of all the junk mail the average adult receives each year. $41 gets you a five-year subscription to the service, which contacts 20 to 30 direct marketing and catalog companies on your behalf, instructing them to remove your name from their distribution lists. This includes almost all credit card offers, coupon mailers, sweepstakes entries, magazine offers and insurance promotions, as well as any catalogs you specify. They also include several prepaid envelopes for use when companies required a signed piece of paper to remove you from the list.
- Pros: The subscription service goes to work for you, providing comprehensive service for an extended period; if junk mail starts showing up before your subscription is up, they'll go to bat for you. Plus, "more than 1/3" of the fee goes to support a non-profit of your choice; included on their list of supported organizations are American Forests, Trees for the Future and Friends of the Urban Forest, along with more tree-friendly and other green and community nonprofits.
- Cons: It costs $41 -- about 68 cents per month -- to cut the junk mail down. You can do most everything 41pounds does for you, but it'll take much more time and effort than signing up with them will.
Stop Junk Mail Before it Starts
Take preventative action, and reduce the likelihood that you'll be overrun by junk mail. By doing things like 1. cutting back on entering sweepstakes, 2. being wary of product warranty cards (the ones that don't require a proof of purchase or receipt), and 3. avoiding signing up for in-store rewards cards, you'll have less of your personal information out there for marketers to sink their claws into.
- Pros: It's free, easy, and your due diligence can go a long way; an ounce of prevention beats a pound of cure.
- Cons: There are no guarantees about how much you'll benefit, or how much the flood of junk mail will be reduced; still, it sure can't hurt.