Ditching Junk Mail

More than 100 billion pieces of junk mail (called "direct marketing" by the companies who send it) get sent in the U.S. each year, for a total of just over 40 pounds of unwanted mail per adult. And these unwanted credit card offers, catalogs, and sales letters are more than just a nuisance:

• The paper used for junk mail causes the destruction of 100 million trees annually, including more than 74,000 acres of trees for catalogs alone.

• Creating, shipping, and disposing of junk mail produces more greenhouse gas emissions than 9 million cars.

• For each piece of personal mail your receive (letters, bills, magazines you subscribe to, and so on), you get about 18 pieces of junk mail.

• Nearly half of all junk mail gets thrown away unread. Even so, over the course of a lifetime, the average American spends 8 months to opening junk mail. Don't you have better things to do with your time?

• It takes about 28 billion gallons of water to produce a year's worth of junk mail.

When you get unsolicited mail, drop it in the recycling bin. (If it's a credit card offer or something similar, be sure to shred it first.) That deals with the stuff you received, but you help the environment even more by reducing the amount of junk mail you get in the first place. To do that, register with one of these services:

• Catalog Choice (www.catalogchoice.org). After you sign up for this free service, you submit the names of catalogs you don't want, along with info like your customer number. Participating companies promise to take you off their mailing lists within 12 weeks.

• The Privacy Council (http://privacycouncil.org). Sign up once and get your name off lists at the Direct Marketing Association (a trade group for the folks who send you junk mail), coupon outfits like Advo and ValPak, credit card companies, and more. This service costs $9.

• 41pounds.org (www.41pounds.org). This nonprofit organization is named after the amount of unwanted mail each American adult gets every year. It charges $41 for a five-year membership and guarantees to reduce your junk mail by 80-95%.

• Tonic MailStopper (http://mailstopper.tonic.com). This service costs $20 a year and works with more than 6,500 direct marketers to reduce the junk mail you receive by up to 90%. MailStopper plants five trees for each person who joins.

• DMAchoice (www.dmachoice.org). The Direct Marketing Association (which runs this website) knows that marketing is most effective when it reaches people who are interested. When you register with the site, indicate what kinds of marketing you don't want: credit offers, catalogs, magazine offers, and other mail offers. DMAchoice keeps your preferences for three years and you can change 'em anytime. In 2008, this service stopped 930 million pieces of junk mail from getting sent.

^^ If you live in Canada, register for the Canadian Marketing Association's Do Not Contact list; visit www.the-cma.org and click the right-hand CMA Do Not Contact Service link. In the UK, register with the DMA's Mail Preference Service at www. mpsonline.org.uk/mpsr.

Or you can take a more do-it-yourself approach to reducing junk mail:

• Contact customer service. When you get a catalog you don't want, call the company and ask them to take you off their mailing list, or visit their website and ask to be removed (look in the Customer Service or Contact Us section of the site). Be sure to have the catalog handy; you'll need info from the mailing label.

• Opt out of credit card and insurance offers. Ever wonder how all those preapproved credit card offers flooding your mailbox know enough to approve you? They buy mailing lists of people who meet certain criteria from one of the credit reporting companies: Experian, Equifax, Innovis, or TransUnion. To keep your name off such lists, call 1-888-5-OPT-OUT (that's 1-888-567-8688) or register at www.optoutprescreen.com; either option takes care of all four credit bureaus.

• Tell companies not to sell your name. Every time you fill out a warranty card, enter a raffle, make a donation, or order something, tell the organization that it's not okay for them to give your name and address to other companies. Memorize these magic words: Please do not rent, sell, or trade my name or address. When you order by phone, say that phrase to the customer service agent and ask him to flag your account. When you fill out things like warranty cards magazine subscription cards, write those words on the form, even though there's no line for them.

^^ Save yourself some typing by heading to this book's Missing CD page at www. missingmanuals.com, where you'll find links to all the websites listed above—and everywhere else in this book.

Direct Mail Secrets Exposed

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