Also called Unsolicited Commercial Mailings or spam, junk mail is the bane of anyone who maintains anything resembling a permanent address (postal or electronic). A massive waste of natural resources, time, effort, and money.

Have you ever opened your mailbox to find it stuffed with nothing but credit card applications and other assorted junk mail? Everyday it is something new: ‘you may have already won’ this and ‘you have been pre-approved’ that. But you can fight back. Inside almost every piece of junk mail, there will be a postage paid envelope. This means that the company must pay to return that envelope. Take junk mail from one company and send it to another. Educate American Express on the wonders of hair restoration; bring joy to the hearts of Southwest Airlines with a subscription offer for the catfish of the Month Club. Just be sure not to send them anything with your name or address written on it. If we all engage in this subtle act of subversion, we can strike a blow, however small, to the mass mailing system.

Actually, there's a much better thing to do, but maybe less fun and subversive.

http://www.junkbusters.com/ has been noded elsewhere, but really only for its anti e-junk-mail and anti-banner ad utilities. Where Junkbusters really, truly excels is at reducing paper junk mail and phone spam. It's run by a nonprofit group here in Cambridge, MA that is not part of the industry and genuinely hates junk mail.

You sign up and create a profile which as much or as little demographic and preference information as you care to give out. Click, and it will use your profile to generate pre-addressed, printer-ready pages that conform to the diverse and bizarre requirements of all the big junk mail companies, without you having to do the legwork to find all this out. All you do is fold, stamp, and mail. Some of the companies just remove you without a fuss, others will send you a confirmation letter that you must return to them. You can then delete your profile if you don't trust Junkbusters.

Shortly after my last move, I did the Junkbusters thing for my new (and old) addresses. Now when you move to a new address, there are several blessed weeks before the junk mail conspiracy discovers you there and the deluge begins. But thanks to Junkbusters, the deluge was just a trickle. Unlike the email spam, I saw little evidence that the paper junk mail companies had used the information I provided to turn around and spam me. Doing it for my old address as well as the new one presumably reduced the mail that ends up in the dead letter office.

Finally, a word about recycling. Sure, your community might have recycling. Never mind that much of the material that is collected for recycling gets landfilled anyhow because they can't find any manufacturers to use the material...recycling just feels right. But remember, recycling is only one of the three R's (in order of importance): Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Paper takes a lot of steps to produce, and it uses a lot of energy, water, and chemicals. If you prevent one item of paper from being generated, it helps the environment as much as recycling many, many paper items.

Sure it's fun to send in that brick, subscribe Verizon to Penthouse, and carry that separate bin to the curb every week. C'mon back and node the results. But if you really want a wholesale reduction in your junk mail, be sure to brush with Junkbusters after every move! Ready...Okay...SPIT. Ahhh....

FIGHT JUNK MAIL!


The other day I was shown an article in the San Francisco Chronicle by David Lazarus about Paul Kameny, who saved all of the credit card solicitations during the calendar year 2002.

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2003/03/07/BU50522.DTL&type=business

The scoop:

Now, the article goes on to talk about the target market of credit cards and one provider in specific - Providian Bank.

These fuckers "mailed out roughly 200 million credit card solicitations and ended up attracting 2 million new customers." Thats 99 out of one hundred of these things getting tossed into the trash, and we all know how much freakin' junk they send you in each envelope.

Lets assume that, for fun, each of these offers weighs half an ounce. That equates to roughly 6.25 million pounds of mail the post office moved around the country last year to all of us credit-needing adults.

Assume there were equal amounts sent each month (not really, but you konw), and thats roughly 520,000 pounds of mail in a month.

That equates to 260 TONS of mail a month.

From ONE company.

Think about it.

Now figure that 99% of that gets tossed away. This is 257.4 tons of paper a month, for a total of 3,088 tons in a year. I'm not sure what the recycling rate is nationally, but you know that its not 100%.

So what should be done with all of these extra envelopes, just sitting there waiting to become landfill?

Never fear, kids. I gots me a plan! Two, actually.

PLAN 1

What else do we get in the mail that we pretty much only care 1% about?

Paper Catalogs, that's what. We get about one of these a week, two if we're really lucky.

Being that most of these things get tossed out, adding to the landfill, we need to figure out a way to get them recycled.

HEY! Lets send them to a company! Companies have better recycling programs than most neighborhoods!

So we can do this:

  1. Get them freebie business reply envelopes from your many many offers.
  2. Take all of the crap that came with it, rip away all marks that identify you.
  3. Stuff it all into that envelope.
  4. Take as much of the catalog you just got and cram that into the envelope, too. Be careful not to rip the envelope, and be neat about it. We don't want to make a mess for the post office.
  5. Seal the envelope.
  6. Put the envelope in the proper mailbox.

PLAN 2

You know how you just LOVE getting that magazine you paid for? You chose to get it and all its juicy content. You read it on the bus, you read it at lunch, you read it in bed, and - if you're like me - you read it on the crapper.

But those magazines are just FULL of them annoying little cards that fall out all over the bathroom floor while you're trying to balance the thing on your lap, getting everywhere, and goddamnit, I ALREADY SUBSCRIBE to the magazine! Stop giving me chances to subscribe, cause I already have!

I always pull these things out as soon as I can, and you should to, but not to throw away.

One of the thing I also do is pull out all the pages that have advertisements on both sides. This makes the magazine weigh about a third of what it originally did, and if you ate humping a few of these babies around in your backpack, every ounce counts.

Now we have a big pile of stuff pulled out of magazines just waiting to be added to the landfill.

Or Not!

  1. Get that pile of advertisements and subscription cards.
  2. Get them freebie business reply envelopes from your many many offers.
  3. Take all of the crap that came with it, rip away all marks that identify you.
  4. Stuff is all into that envelope.
  5. Cram the cards and advertisements into the envelope. Again, be neat.
  6. Seal the envelope.
  7. Put the envelope in the proper mailbox.

You can also put in a little note to the credit card company about how you look at the ads as you rip them out, so maybe they would want to get print ads in magazines instead of filling our fucking mailboxes with crap.

Another fun side project is filling out ALL of those little cards with jibberish. If I really wanted something from your company, It wouldn't bother me to have to write you a letter and ask for it firsthand. The simple fact that you guys bend over backwards to make it as easy as humanly possible to get your crap tells me how useless it probably is.

Tips:

  1. Add a little note politely asking the company to stop sending this junk to you. Add your name and address to the note if you like so they know who is making the request, not that they'll stop.
  2. Those "Locator Codes" that are sometimes printed on the back of the envelope? Black ballpoint pen can mess the barcode up, or better yet, write above and below it:
    "The name and address associated with this code no longer wishes to be contacted by your company ever again, nor are you allowed to sell this name and contact information to any other parties."
  3. Those envelopes with the window to show the delivery address on the application?
    1. Tear the address off the application and tape it in place
    2. Sticky Notes will fill that space, then write the address on the stickynote.
  4. Leave little notes to the people that pay to open these envelopes all day long and ask them why they aren't out looking for a better job.
  5. DO NOT DO NOT DO NOT write curse words on the notes or threaten to beat their asses or spit into the envelope or cough or sneeze or wipe snot into it or anything like that. This is a crime, and endangering the poor slobs who process the envelopes is NOT the point.

What is the point of all this?

These companies get special rates on their bulk mailings, and they know their return rate is going to be around X, and the average postage on that is Y, so they can expect to pay a further amount of Z to the post office to cover the stuff coming back.

Everyone sending back all of their little envelopes with a LOT of paper in them will cost them a ton of money. Especially after the post office has had enough of it and starts raising their rates.

Hit the bastards in the pocketbook. That's all they listen to.


Here is the text of the article I mentioned above. These things tend to disappear over time.

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2003/03/07/BU50522.DTL&type=business

A deluge of credit
S.F. man tallies credit card offers -- 217 solicitations
by David Lazarus 

Four billion credit card solicitations were mailed nationwide last year. 
More than a few found their way to the San Francisco home of Paul Kameny.

Actually, he can be more precise than that. Kameny, his wife and their two
grown children received 217 credit card solicitations in 2002, or about four
a week.

Kameny crunched the numbers and determined that, collectively, his family
was offered $2.7 million in credit last year alone.

And that's a conservative estimate, taking the single lowest offer from each
card issuer (nearly all of which sent multiple solicitations). If Kameny's
family had pplied for and received every card offered, they'd have had $8.5
million in credit.

"This is criminal," he told me. "Banks are doing everything
they can to saddle people with debt."

You don't have to be like Kameny, 65, a retired language-school owner, and
count every credit card solicitation to see that this is a problem of
monumental proportions.

It's enough to know that debt-service levels for ordinary consumers are at
15-year highs, with outstanding credit card balances accounting for almost
10 percent of disposable income.

The typical American household now carries $8,500 in credit card debt.

Personal bankruptcies soared to a record 1.5 million last year.

And still banks and other issuers mail out billions of solicitations a year
for new plastic.

"It's totally unbelievable," said Linda Sherry, a spokeswoman for
Consumer Action in San Francisco. "You have to wonder how much debt is
enough for these people."

In fact, credit card issuers are nowhere near the level of indebtedness they
desire for the American public. Not by a long shot.

Take San Francisco's Providian Financial, the ninth-largest credit card
issuer. The company is pinning its future on what it calls the "middle 
market" of consumers, people with average credit scores who carry at 
least $800 in monthly credit card balances.

Providian, which now has 12 million customers, believes there are at least 25 
million middle-market consumers nationwide just waiting to be offered a new 
Providian card.

"They're out there," said Alan Elias, a company spokesman.
"Good, average Joe and Jane Consumers trying to enjoy their lives. The 
sort of people who shop at Wal-Mart and Target."

The sort of people, in other words, who don't need any more debt on their backs.

Elias said Providian is being very aggressive in chasing after these potential 
customers. "And we'll be more aggressive in the future," he 
promised.

Last year, the company mailed out roughly 200 million credit card 
solicitations and ended up attracting 2 million new customers.

Providian estimates that it costs nearly $100 to sign up each new customer,
but the investment is clearly worthwhile. The company reported net income of 
$218 million on $5.6 billion in revenue last year.

As for debt, Providian thinks owing some money isn't necessarily a bad thing.
Builds character, you could say.

"Having a credit card, used responsibly, provides a level of
freedom," Elias said. "We believe that a manageable level of debt
is certainly acceptable."

Well, of course they do. But with the average interest rate for credit card
balances nearing 15 percent, you have to wonder if these guys are dishing out
more than consumers can chew.

Some lawmakers think so, which is why credit cards figured prominently in 
congressional hearings this week on overhauling the nation's bankruptcy laws.

Calls for bankruptcy reform began in the mid-1990s, when record numbers of
Americans were walking away from their debts despite a relatively vibrant 
economy. Financial institutions charged at the time that people were simply 
taking advantage of a flawed system.

These days, though, few would dispute that the soaring bankruptcy rate is 
very much related to the country's economic slump, and that those seeking 
bankruptcy protection are for the most part clawing their way toward a second 
chance.

Nevertheless, financial institutions are still lobbying aggressively to make
it tougher for people to escape debt -- in essence requiring more people to 
file a Chapter 13 reorganization instead of a Chapter 7 liquidation, which 
erases outstanding credit card obligations.

"It's pure hypocrisy," said Sherry at Consumer Action. "The
banks want everyone to run up credit card bills but want to take away your 
ability to overcome debt problems."

Financial institutions counter that if a debtor has some way to pay his or her 
bills, no matter how long it takes, then those bills should remain hanging 
over their head.

Meanwhile, financial institutions want customers to keep using their product 
just enough to remain hooked but not so much that they end up a casualty.

A Consumer Action study coming out next week finds that most card issuers 
now require customers to pay only 2 percent of their balance each month -- a 
system, it would seem, all but guaranteeing that one remains indebted for 
life.

"It's not in credit card companies' best interest to overextend customers 
to the breaking point," said Providian's Elias. "We need to find the 
right balance."

For his part, Kameny is preparing to mail back those hundreds of solicitations 
in all the no-postage-required return envelopes they came with. And he's 
encouraging recipients of the 3.99 billion other solicitations sent out last 
year to do the same.

"If everyone did that, we'd get rid of all these mailers for sure," 
Kameny said. "Of course, the post office wouldn't appreciate it. But oh 
well." 

Volume is key.

Having worked for over nine years as a mail carrier, I had moments where I despised junk mail. The "circulars" that went one to a house were the worst. However, while millions whine and try to determine how to eliminate the bothersome nuisance of "junk mail," most miss the point.

The cost of operating the United States Postal Service is tied directly into volume of mail handled. The less mail you have moving through the system, the higher it will cost per piece. Bulk business mail, which is classified as third class mail, represents more than fifty percent of the mail volume. Because of it, the cost to the average person to mail a letter of greater personal importance is kept lower. If you were to eliminate the horrible blight of "junk mail" it would likely mean doubling the cost of the stamp on your heartfelt letter to Aunt Ellie.

The postal service expends great time and effort to court companies who want to send out mass mailings. They do so because a very large portion of their annual expenses are paid for by these mass mailers.

It never ceased to amuse me how often people would leave "junk mail" in their mailbox and write across the front of it "return to sender" and assorted nonsense like that. Third class mail is not returnable. It is sent at a reduced cost because, unless it carries an address correction request, it is flying on a one-way ticket. It is technically illegal for the mail carrier or the post office to throw away the profaned junk mail, but it ends up happening. It does not go back to the sender. It won't unless you put a stamp on it. The mail carrier is not even allowed to pick it up without a stamp. Yet, they do, because it just isn't worth arguing over, and then they toss it in the undeliverable bin.

So you've received some third class mail you don't want. So you somehow feel extremely bothered by the concept of throwing away an envelope. So you decide to expend hours of effort figuring out how to get revenge on the mailer of the "junk mail." Remember that it doesn't much matter. Just throw it away. You're making a federal case about something that in the end is saving you money, unless you never have any reason to mail something.

Just throw it away
And get on with your life


Yes, indeed, a terrible waste of trees and such. Thanks for reminding me.

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