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How to stop junk mail and save trees - and your sanity

By: Elisabeth Leamy, Special to The Washington Post
February 13, 2018 Updated: February 13, 2018 at 10:30 am
Caption +
FILE - In this Jan. 28, 2008 file photo, a mail handler breaks bundles of business mail at the United States Postal Service Leslie N. Shaw Sr. Processing and Distribution Center in Los Angeles. Thanks to a one-two punch from the recession and rising production and shipping costs, retailers are shrinking catalogs, substituting postcards and slashing mailing lists. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)

Many people love to hate junk mail - and they have lots of different ways of quantifying their disgust: New York University says 5.6 million tons of junk mail end up in American landfills every year. says we may spend as much as eight months of our life sorting junk mail. claims junk mail's annual carbon contribution is equal to that of seven U.S. states combined. Of course, these stats all come from people who would like to see less junk mail sent and tossed.

So what do junk mail advocates say? First, they don't call it junk mail. They call it direct mail or marketing mail. The Data and Marketing Association says American businesses sent 149 billion pieces of direct mail and nearly 10 billion catalogues in 2016. And here's why: The DMA says more than 5 percent of people respond to direct mail, compared with less than 1 percent who respond to email pitches. Marketers know we have to sort it, which means we have to look at it. The U.S. Postal Service says even millennials -- three quarters of them - find marketing mail valuable.

With numbers like that, the industry's not going to stop it. So if you're not a fan, you'll have to do it yourself. There are two easy ways to opt out of much of the bulk mail you receive. Then, if you're still not satisfied, there are several more steps you can take.

- Multiple kinds of junk mail

DMAchoice ( ) should be your first stop because it gives you the opportunity to say no to multiple categories of mail in one place: catalogues, credit offers and magazine offers, as well as charity, bank and retail mailings. Members of the Data & Marketing Association (formerly the Direct Marketing Association) would rather not spend their money sending direct mail to people who don't want to receive it, so they started this service decades ago. I tried it myself and was done in less than three minutes. The service costs $2 and lasts for 10 years.

- Credit card and insurance offers

If you're like many people, credit card offers are one of the biggest categories in your mailbox, which is why this is Step 2. The big credit reporting agencies -- Equifax, Experian, Innovis and TransUnion -- created a mechanism for people to opt out of preapproved credit card offers and insurance offers. The Fair Credit Reporting Act gives these credit bureaus the right to share our credit histories with businesses that may want to offer us financial products. The Opt Out Prescreen system ( is an attempt to give you a say in the matter. This service is free, though you will have to provide your Social Security number to verify your identity. (Don't worry - the credit bureaus already have it.) You can opt out online for five years or print out a form that you mail in to opt out permanently. This service can also be accessed on the DMAchoice website.

- Catalogues

Registering with DMAchoice should stop the flow of catalogues and magazine offers, but if you want to be extra thorough, you can also contact Abacus. Catalogue and publishing companies share consumer information via Abacus. To let Abacus know that you do not wish to get mailings from its members, send an email to its parent company at Put "remove" in the subject line and your name and address in the body of the email. Be sure to include your name as it appears on the bulk mail you receive. If your middle initial is on there, use it. If your name is misspelled, include that. If you have moved in the past six months, state your previous address as well.

- Charity solicitations

Ever notice how if you donate money to one charity, soon you start receiving solicitations from others? That's because they sell, rent and swap your contact information with one another. Unfortunately, there is no centralized opt-out system for charity mailings. Instead, the nonprofit organization CharityWatch recommends that when you make a donation, you include a note with it requesting that the charity not rent, sell or trade your name. (You can make this same request of businesses.) You can also ask your chosen charities to solicit you only once a year rather than nonstop and tell them that you will stop giving if they don't honor your wishes.

- Contests

Let the two biggest contest promoters know you're not interested, and you should see significantly fewer pieces of mail in your box. Help elderly relatives sign up, too.

-- Publishers Clearing Houseprovides an online form:

-- Reader's Digest asks that you email your request to

- Coupons

Several big companies are responsible for sending out most of the coupons we receive. Here are the opt-out pages for them:

-- Money Mailer sends big red, white and blue envelopes. If you don't want them, email your name and address to

-- RedPlum asks that you fill out a form on its website to put a stop to its mailings:

-- Valpak also offers an online opt-out form:

- Data brokers

Data brokers sell people's names, addresses and buying habits to companies who send direct mail. Here are two of the biggest:

-- Acxiom offers an online form to opt out:

-- InfoUsa asks that you email your name and address to

- Mail for deceased people

It's bad enough to receive your own junk mail, but it can be downright depressing to receive it for people who have died. For that reason, the Data & Marketing Association created the Deceased Do Not Contact List, which its members must honor:

- Mail for past residents

I have lived in my house for 12 years and still get reams of junk mail in the names of three previous owners. Unfortunately, there is no high-tech solution for this hassle. Here are some low-tech ones:

-- The Postal Service says to write "not at this address" on the previous residents' envelopes and place them in a blue mailbox or another outgoing-mail receptacle.

-- Some people report success placing a note on their mailbox that says: "Nobody but [list of names] lives here. Please do not deliver mail for anyone else." The Postal Service doesn't endorse this method, but it can't hurt.

- Phone books

So many of us do our research online these days, and yet, once or twice a year, the biggest form of direct mail of all arrives on our doorsteps with a thud: phone books. Not necessary! Here is the Web page to opt out of receiving Yellow Pages books:

- Sexually oriented mail

If you get unwanted sexual advertising mail, the Postal Service has a solution: Fill out Postal Service Form 1500 to let the post office know that you do not wish to receive this mail. It then becomes illegal for companies to send it to you, and the Postal Service works to make sure they don't.


- Leamy hosts the podcast "Easy Money." She is a 13-time Emmy winner and a 25-year consumer advocate for programs such as "Good Morning America."

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