Stop Junk Mail: Eight things you can do today to stop junk mail

Junk mail is more than a nuisance. It's harmful to the environment.

The average American gets 40 pounds of junk mail every year. The number of trees required to produce that much mail for all of us? 100 million.

The Center for a New American Dream says that's like deforesting Rocky Mountain National Park 3 times each year - and that creating and then getting rid of all that junk mail takes more energy than 3 million cars.

The Environmental Protection Agency reports that, in 2005, almost 6 million tons of direct mail and catalogs went into the garbage. That's enough to fill nearly 500,000 garbage trucks. Only 22 percent of the stuff is recycled.

These huge environmental costs come with little reward. Americans toss 44 percent of the mail without even opening it, and we respond to just 2 percent it.

You may be surprised to find how easy it is to dramatically reduce the amount of junk mail you receive. Here's what you can do today:

1. Register with the Direct Marketing Association's Mail Preference site: 
 http://dmachoice.org

2. Stop the Credit Card Offers. Visit OptOutPrescreen.com or call 1-888-5OptOut (1-888-567-8688). The major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and Transunion) maintain this free service, which allows you to opt out of offers for credit or insurance. The whole process takes less than one minute. You can opt out via the website for a duration of five years. If you wish to opt out permanently, you need to do it by mail. The website has instructions for doing that, as well.

3. Reduce the Catalogs. There is an alliance of publishing companies and catalog companies that compile the names and addresses of those of us who like to order from mail order catalogs. Then they share the information with other companies in the alliance. You can opt out of this alliance by sending an email to optout@abacus-us.com or a letter to Abacus, Inc. PO Box 1478, Broomfield, CO 80038

Some catalog companies don't check these opt-out programs. In this case, and for any company that continues to send you direct mail advertising, find the customer service number or address and ask to be removed from the list. You can also request that they not share your information with other advertisers.

4. Contact individual senders. The three steps detailed above should dramatically reduce the amount of junk mail you receive. For the rest of it, your best bet is to contact the senders individually. These companies are required to allow you to opt out of their mailings. It may take some time to contact everyone who is sending you junk mail, but it is worth it for you and the environment. Note that if a piece of unsolicited mail is sent First Class, you can send it back. Mark off your information and write "Refused-Return to Sender."

5. Consider your phone listing. It's helpful to get an unlisted telephone number because some marketers obtain your name and address from phone listings. If you don't want to be unlisted, you can ask the phone company to not list your address with your name. Most will do this at no charge.

6. Protect your personal information. Give your personal information only to trusted companies with the specific request that they not share it or sell it. It may help to request a privacy designation with your mortgage company, cable company, bank, etcetera, as well as any magazines you subscribe to and any clubs or groups you belong to (including the loyalty program at the supermarket.) Let them know in writing that you don't want your personal information shared.

7. Think twice before sending in the product registration cards. Product registration cards and customer survey cards often put you on a mailing list, as well. If you send in the card (which you may want to do so that you will be notified in case of a recall, for example) include only the most essential information (generally, your name and address, date of purchase and the serial number of product.) And include a request that your personal information not be shared.

8. Use caution when entering sweepstakes and contests. Submit your name and address for sweepstakes only if there is an option for opting out of the resulting mailing list.

It probably isn't possible to stop all the junk mail, so for those bits of mail that seep through, make sure to recycle it. And know that you did what you could to give Mother Earth a little break.