Surprisingly, it's unknown how much advertising mail is distributed in the UK. There are plenty of figures about addressed junk mail but hardly any data about unaddressed junk mail is publicly available.
Let's start with the type of junk mail for which we have got figures: addressed junk mail. The amount of addressed advertising mail pushed through our letterboxes peaked in 2003 and has since declined:
|Year||Volume||Perc + / -|
|Source: Waste Prevention Report 2009|
The effect of the Mailing Preference Service
There are two of obvious reasons for the downward trend; increased competition from online advertising and the economic recession. The effect of other factors is less clear. For instance, it's not easy to establish what effect the steady increase in the number of people registered with the Mailing Preference Service has on junk mail volumes. The opt-out scheme for addressed junk mail only prevents unsolicited junk mail (the postal equivalent of cold calling). In order to estimate how much junk mail the Mailing Preference Service prevents we need to know what percentage of all addressed junk mail is solicited, and how much is unsolicited.
A recent report by the Mail Media Centre (Mail Volumes and Response Rate by Industry Sector, April 2011) estimates that 71.4% of all addressed mail goes to 'prospects' - i.e. people with whom the sender doesn't have an existing relationship. The remainder of addressed junk mail is sent to people who are 'clients'.
If the figure of 71.4% is correct we can calculate that of the 3,281m pieces of addressed junk mail posted in 2009 just over 2,3 million were unsolicited:
3,281m x 71.4% = 2,34m
This doesn't mean that the Mailing Preference Service could, potentially, stop up to 2,34 million pieces of junk mail per year. To further complicate things, we would also need to know what percentage of the total volume of unsolicited addressed junk mail is covered by the opt-out scheme. Only members of the Direct Marketing Association are required to check if people are registered with the opt-out scheme - it would therefore be wrong to assume the service stops all unsolicited addressed junk mail. As per usual the Direct Marketing Association doesn't provide such data, and so it's impossible to make a proper guesstimate of what impact the Mailing Preference Service is having on junk mail volumes.
Unaddressed junk mail should be divided into two main categories: unaddressed mail items (i.e. stuff that comes through the letterbox) and inserts (leaflets that come with newspapers and magazines). The volume of unaddressed mail is measured (in the Direct Marketing Association's Market Size reports) but the general public isn't allowed to know how much leaflets and inserts we have to put up with. The only statistic about the volume of unaddressed junk mail that's in the public domain was published by Defra in 2007. A page on the department's website (now archived) states:
"Postcomm estimates that 3.4 billion items of addressed direct mail and 13 billion items of unaddressed direct mail were sent out in 2005/6."
The figure of 13 billion items includes unaddressed mail as well as inserts in newspapers and magazines. An exact breakdown is - you guessed it - not available. This leaves us with a rather incomplete table for unaddressed mail and inserts:
Why be secretive?
In the above table I'm using the word 'Secret' rather than 'Unknown' because the volume of unaddressed mail is actually known - they're in the Market Size reports I mentioned above. Perhaps the most interest fact about junk mail is that the industry chooses not to publish data about unaddressed junk mail. Intriguingly, even Defra - which has a voluntary responsiblity deal with the industry aiming to reduce waste - doesn't know how much unaddressed mail there is.
A very rough guesstimate
Using figures published in the Direct Marketing Material Waste Prevention report it's possible to calculate the volume of addressed junk mail. It's a tricky calculation and the numbers may be a couple of billion items or so out:
If the figures are more or less accurate it would confirm the downward trend. Since 2003 the volumes of addressed and unaddressed junk mail have dropped by 22.1% and 29.0%, respectively.
According to the Office for National Statistics there were 50,243,000 people of 16 years or older in the UK in 2009. That means the average adult got 65 pieces of addressed junk mail in 2009:
3,281,000,000 / 50,243,000 = 65.3
There were 25,837m households in 2009. So, the average household got 127 pieces of addressed junk mail:
3,281,000,000 / 25,837,000 = 127.0
A guestimated 8,431,000,000 pieces of unaddressed junk mail were posted through our letterboxes - that's 326 pieces of junk per household:
8,431,000,000 / 25,837,000 = 326.3
And so the average household got 453 pieces of junk mail in 2009. That's nearly nine pieces of junk mail per week:
127.0 + 326.3 = 453.3 / 52 = 8.7
Almost all advertising mail is unsolicited (as opposed to solicited). As we have seen, it's estimated that 71.4% of all addressed junk mail is unsolicited. Unaddressed junk mail is always unsolicited, and so over 90% of the total volume of junk mail is unsolicited:
3,281,000,000 x 71.4% = 2,342,634,000 + 8,431,000,000 = 10,773,634,000 / 11,712,000,000) * 100 = 92.0%
Impressive as the calculations may look, it should be remembered that the data used (i.e. the volumes of addressed and unaddressed junk mail) can't be verified.
Of all addressed junk mail about a fifth is sent to businesses. The table below shows the volume of addressed junk mail sent to people and businesses; the percentage increases / decreases; the total volume of addressed junk mail; and the share of 'business to business' junk mail.
|People (#)||People (%)||B2B (#)||B2B (%)||Total (#)||B2B (%)|
|1999||3,283m||+ 5.1||1,062m||+ 19.2||4,345m||24.4|
|2000||3,516m||+ 7.1||1,148m||+ 8.1||4,664m||24.6|
|2001||3,706m||+ 5.4||1,233m||+ 7.4||4,939m||25.0|
|2002||3,939m||+ 6.3||1,249m||+ 1.3||5,188m||24.1|
|2003||4,240m||+ 7.6||1,198m||- 4.1||5,438m||22.0|
|2004||4,222m||- 0.4||1,196m||- 0.2||5,418m||22.1|
|2005||4,002m||- 5.2||1,132m||- 5.4||5,134m||22.0|
|2006||3,937m||- 1.6||1,091m||- 3.6||5,028m||21.7|
|2007||3,690m||- 6.3||965m||- 11.5||4,655m||20.7|
|2008||3,483m||- 5.6||870m||- 9.8||4,353m||20.0|
|Source: Trends in consumer and business direct mail volumes, March 2010|
If you're a sharp reader you'll have noticed the figures in the second column - 'People (#)' - are different from the figures shown in the first table on this page (the one that shows how much addressed junk mail is sent to people). The numbers come from different sources, and the difference is exactly 1.01%. What explains this difference I do not know.
If we add up the total volume of addressed junk mail sent to people and businesses and the guesstimated volume of unaddressed mail we get some idea of how much junk mail is produced annually. The percentages shown in the last column of the table below is the decrease in the total volume of junk mail relative to the total volume in 2003: