In 2021, most of us conduct a vast share of the activities of daily life within the digital realm. We scroll through our social media feeds to read the news and keep up with family members; we use text messaging and email to communicate with coworkers and friends, and we do most of our banking and bill-paying through websites and mobile apps. Yet somehow, the volume of paper junk mail we receive at home has actually increased by nearly 20 percent over the last three decades, meaning most days we still open our mailboxes to a cascade of catalogs, marketing pieces, and credit card solicitations.
On average, unsolicited print marketing materials—what most of us consider junk mail—have an abysmal response rate of around 5 percent. In contrast, the negative toll junk mail takes on our environment, our homes and even our mental health can be considerable. If you’re looking for ways to reduce the clutter created by junk mail, keep reading to learn how to stop junk mail from reaching your doorstep.
How Big a Problem is Junk Mail?
The U.S. Postal Service delivers billions of pieces of junk mail annually, and experts estimate that we get 18 pieces of junk mail for every piece of purposeful mail we receive.
Junk Mail’s Impact on Quality of Life
The dozens of pieces of junk mail flooding our mailboxes each week require us to spend time looking through, sorting and ultimately discarding most of these deliveries. According to research by non-profit recycling group EcoCycle.org, the average American can spend up to eight months over the course of their lives managing junk mail. That’s almost a year wasted on dealing with catalogs, advertisements and solicitations we never asked to receive in the first place!
Additionally, junk mail puts us at increased risk for identity theft, since these pieces often include our full name, address, purchasing habits and even information about our credit history.
Finally, junk mail adds clutter to our already chaotic lives. If not sorted immediately, it can pile up on our dining room tables, kitchen counters or office desks and contribute to a messy environment that can distract us from focusing on the things we truly care about. Studies have shown that clutter can even have a negative impact on our overall mental health.
Junk Mail’s Impact on the Environment
In an era in which many of us are looking for ways to reduce our environmental footprint, the effects of junk mail on the planet are staggering. Consider the following statistics collected by the New York University School of Law:
- Americans send 5.6 million tons of junk mail to landfills each year.
- Nearly half of junk mail is discarded without being opened or read, but only half of that amount gets recycled.
- Roughly 100 million trees are cut down to produce the junk mail received by American households over the course of a year. That’s like cutting down every tree in Washington national parks three times a year.
- This deforestation produces the same level of greenhouse gas emissions per year as 3.7 million motor vehicles.
- Most of the trees sacrificed come from forests in Indonesia and Canada, eliminating the habitats of 17 percent of the planet’s birds and 12 percent of its mammal population.
Where Does All This Junk Mail Come From?
Most of the time, we don’t remember asking to receive the catalogs, coupons and special offers we consider junk mail. That’s because in most cases, we didn’t. The majority of junk mail is produced by large direct-mail companies that negotiate reduced-rate postage contracts with the U.S. Postal Service, enabling them to send tons of paper catalogs, advertisements, postcards, flyers and other items to massive mailing lists.
These mailing lists are typically compiled by two junk mail juggernauts—Direct Mail and the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), which recently acquired the longtime industry giant Data and Marketing Association (DMA)—using public records, phone directories, club membership rosters, credit applications and even the postal service itself. As long as the junk mail contains adequate postage, the U.S. Postal Service is legally required to deliver it to your mailbox.
How to Stop Junk Mail from Invading Your Home
Fortunately, you do have the power to dramatically reduce, if not completely eliminate, the volume of junk mail arriving at your home each year. By completing the steps below, you can cut the clutter that junk mail adds to your life and prevent pounds of waste from reaching your local landfill.
Stopping Offers for Credit Cards and Insurance
Most credit card and insurance companies use “prescreened” or “preapproved” offers to target potential customers who may be interested in their products. Generally, these offers are sent to individuals whose credit history qualifies them for the products; companies obtain this information by contacting consumer reporting agencies and requesting a list of people who have a minimum credit score or meet other criteria.
These inquiries may appear on your credit report, but do not generally have a negative impact on your overall credit score. However, they can dramatically increase the amount of unwanted offers you receive in the mail.
You have two options for stopping these prescreened offers from arriving in your mailbox: one temporary and one permanent.
How To Stop Junk Mail: The Temporary Option
To opt-out of receiving these mailings for five years, you can call (888) 5-OPT-OUT or go to www.optoutprescreen.com, both of which are managed by the major consumer reporting agencies (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax). You will be asked to provide basic personal information, including your name, phone number, date of birth and Social Security number. Your information will only be used to complete your request and will be kept confidential throughout the process.
How To Stop Junk Mail: The Permanent Option
To opt-out of receiving these mailings forever, you can begin the process at www.optoutprescreen.com and then complete and sign the Permanent Opt-Out Election form. You can also opt-out permanently by sending a written request via traditional mail to each of the consumer reporting agencies at the addresses listed below; your request must include your name, date of birth, Social Security number and phone number.
These requests are typically processed within five business days, but you may continue receiving these offers for up to 60 days after submitting your request. If you change your mind, you can always opt back in at (888) 5-OPT-OUT or www.optoutprescreen.com. Removing your name from prescreened lists will not impact your ability to apply for or obtain credit or insurance.
Stopping Direct Mail
Unlike the National Do Not Call List, which is managed by the federal government to enable people to stop unwanted phone calls from telemarketers and solicitors, the National Do Not Mail List is maintained by Direct Mail, a private consumer marketing agency.
When you fill out the form on the company’s website, Direct Mail adds your name to its list of individuals who have indicated they do not wish to receive direct mail. The company then provides that list to other mass-mailing agencies so they can remove the names of people who have opted out.
Alternatively, you can also indicate if there are specific types of direct mail offers you do wish to receive, and Direct Mail will provide your name to related businesses and organizations to let them know you are interested in their mailings.
The Data and Marketing Association (DMA), which has since been acquired by the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), also offers a service called DMAChoice, an online tool designed to help consumers manage the amount and type of marketing mail they receive. DMAChoice divides direct mail into four categories— credit offers, catalogs, magazine offers and other mail offers—and you can manage each category individually or opt-out of all of them.
Unlike Direct Mail’s service, DMAChoice charges a modest fee for processing consumer opt-out requests. If you fill out the form online, the fee is $2 for 10 years; if you submit your request via traditional mail, the cost is $3, and it will take slightly longer to process your request. To use the latter option, send your name, address and signature as well as a $3 check or money order payable to ANA to:
P.O. Box 900
Cos Cob, CT 06807
Stopping Unwanted Catalogs
Anytime you order from a catalog—or buy something online from a company that publishes a catalog—your contact information may be shared with The Abacus Alliance, an industry group of catalog and publishing companies. To request removal from all catalog mailing lists, you can send an email with your name and address to [email protected]; you can also submit your request by mail to
P.O. Box 1478
Broomfield, CO 80038
You may also consider using Catalog Choice, a not-for-profit organization founded to help protect natural resources and the environment. The group sends your opt-out request to merchants for free, although it does accept donations to fund its mission. The group recommends using DMAChoice in tandem with its services for a comprehensive approach to reducing junk mail, since many catalog merchants share mailing lists and other personal information with other merchants.
Stopping Charity Solicitations
You may have noticed that if you donate to a charitable organization once, they will continue to send you regular requests for additional support. Additionally, many nonprofits send blanket solicitations to millions of households in hopes of garnering attention and financial support.
They may include nominal gifts like notepads, stickers and personalized address labels, a tactic designed to make you feel obligated to respond with a donation. But if you want to stop these solicitations from landing in your mailbox, the American Institute on Philanthropy recommends the following actions:
- When you make a donation of money or other items of value to a charity, include a specific request that the group not rent, sell or give your contact information and donation history with any third parties. You can also indicate that your future support is contingent on the group respecting your request.
- If you donate to a charity once a year, ask the group to limit its mailings to you accordingly.
- If you have no interest in supporting a nonprofit organization, contact the group and ask to be removed from their mailing list.
Unfortunately, there is no comprehensive service or “do not mail” list that will address all unwanted charity solicitations with a single action.
Stopping Promotional Mailings
In addition to registering with the National Do Not Mail List and DMAChoice, you can also write “Return to Sender” on any mail addressed to “Resident,” “Current Resident” or “Current Occupant” and put them back in your mailbox to be picked up by your mail carrier. You can also take this approach with mail pieces that include the phrases “Return Service Requested,” “Forwarding Service Requested,” “Address Service Requested” or “Change Service Requested.”
How To Stop Junk Mail from Other Common Sources
To cover all of your bases with regard to promotional mail, you should also submit opt-out requests to the following companies:
- SKUlocal, which sends packets of coupons and promotional offers to millions of households each month
- Valassis (operated by parent company Save), which also mails out unsolicited promotional fliers and advertisements
- Publishers Clearing House, which gives away millions of dollars through its famous sweepstakes but sends out exponentially more unwanted promotional materials to unwitting participants
- Any banks, credit card companies and utilities with which you do business, specifically requesting that they not release your name, address, email address, phone number or Social Security number to any third parties for promotional purposes.
Stopping Junk Mail for Good
Unfortunately, stopping junk mail can feel a bit like an endless game of Whack-a-Mole: as soon as you succeed in eliminating mailings from one source, a new one pops up in your mailbox. It’s important to stay vigilant and keep a record of opt-out requests and contacts you have made with marketers, charities and any other groups that persist in sending you unwanted mail.
Remind these groups that they will permanently lose you as a customer or supporter if they refuse to honor your requests—sometimes, the threat of lost revenue is the most impactful message you can send in your quest to stop junk mail from invading your home and your life.