Stop Junk Mail

The Science of Junk Busting

Guide to Stamping Out Junk Mail

Letterbox stickers

Putting a 'No Junk Mail' sign on your door is the only way to stop unaddressed junk mail delivered by local businesses and free newspapers. It won't stop unaddressed mail distributed by Royal Mail though, as the company instructs postmen to ignore anti-junk mail signs.

The basics

Even if you're registered with the two opt-out schemes for unaddressed mail (the Door-to-Door Opt-Out and Your Choice) you should get a 'No Junk Mail' sign. The two opt-outs cover roughly half of all the leaflets that are pushed through your door. In particular leaflets from local businesses (take-away menus, business cards etc.) are unlikely to be stopped by the official opt-out services. You can make a sign yourself or buy one from the Stickers page on this website (which, to declare an interest, is funded by the sale of anti-junk mail goodies).

What is junk mail, anyway?

Most letterbox stickers simply read 'No Junk Mail'. For years I refused to sell stickers with that text on this website. The text is rather vague and subjective; what you see as 'junk mail' may be useful information to me. Should political leaflets be classified as 'junk mail', for instance? Or, what are deliverers of free local newspaper supposed to do when they come across a sticker saying 'No Junk Mail'?

Although I still feel that stickers with the text 'No Commercial Leaflets' are superior I've ceased my opposition to 'No Junk Mail' stickers. I reckon they're good enough, provided that we can agree a definition of 'junk mail'.

On the impossibility of a definition for 'junk mail'

In countries that have a proper sticker scheme for unaddressed junk mail - that is, just about the whole western hemisphere apart from Britain - a definition of junk mail is usually agreed by the industry and consumer groups. As our junk mail industry doesn't support a sticker scheme (and even refuses to discuss the idea) we don't have a definition. We've got no alternative but to muddle along.

My suggestion is to define 'junk mail' as unaddressed, unsolicited and commercial advertisements. In other words, a 'No Junk Mail' sign should stop commercial items such as take-away menus and calling cards from local businesses, but not non-commercial items such political leaflets, local authority magazines and free newspapers.

So what if you don't want to receive free newspapers and/or political leaflets? To stop the first you can get a sign that reads 'No Junk Mail and Free Newspapers' and/or contact the publisher of the paper you want to cancel. Political leaflets are a more thorny issue. If you don't want to receive political leaflets your best option is to ask the political parties you don't want to hear from to skip your letterbox. If the party is a member of the Direct Marketing Association (and the three main parties all are) they have to respect such a request (under article 13.23 of the Direct Marketing Association's Code of Practice). For more information about stopping political leaflets, see 'How to stop political leaflets' on my blog.

Help them to help you!

Generally speaking, leaflet deliverers are quite willing to respect 'No Junk Mail' signs. True, there are deliverers who simply don't care (in my own experience take-away restaurants are the worst offenders) but most deliverers understand that ignoring a polite request not to receive leaflets is rude and reflects poorly on the company they represent.

They're not all 'baddies'. In fact, deliverers are sometimes rightly frustrated with householders for making it difficult for them to do a decent job. If you are going to put up a 'No Junk Mail' sign, consider if deliverers will be able to easily spot and understand the sign. In particular:

In short, be nice to deliverers and help them to help you.

What if my sticker is ignored?

If your 'No Junk Mail' sign is ignored there's a good chance the culprit is Royal Mail. The company instructs postmen to ignore any type of 'No Junk Mail' sign and wants people to register with its Door-to-Door Opt-Out instead. If the junk mail was delivered by the postman indeed you should either sign up to the opt-out scheme or, if you are already registered, remind Royal Mail not to deliver unaddressed mail to your address. More information about the opt-out scheme can be found on the Door-to-Door Opt-Out page in this guide.

Your options are limited if the junk mail wasn't delivered by the postman. Unfortunately, any 'No Junk Mail' sign is merely a polite request not to receive (commercial) leaflets. The Data Protection Act 1998 gives you the right not to receive addressed junk mail (see 'Contact senders') but there's no such equivalent for unaddressed junk mail. The self-regulatory framework set up by the Direct Marketing Association also doesn't offer help when it comes to enforcing 'No Junk Mail' signs - the industry feels its two opt-out schemes for unaddressed mail are more than adequate (even though signing up to both schemes can no more than halve the amount of unaddressed junk mail you get). You could try contacting senders directly, though that's of course a rather time-consuming approach.

The only alternative is the justice for the price of an envelope approach. Stick the unwanted leaflet in an envelope with a polite note asking the sender to respect 'No Junk Mail' signs in future. Don't put a stamp on the envelope, just hurry to your nearest pillar box and get Royal Mail to notify the sender that an item is ready for collection and that a charge for postage and an admin fee are due.

When will we get a proper sticker scheme?

The reason we don't have a proper sticker scheme in the UK is that the (self-regulating) junk mail industry doesn't like the idea of people putting 'No Junk Mail' signs on their doors. Interestingly, in a discussion about sticker schemes I had a couple of years ago the Direct Marketing Association's head of postal affairs did acknowledge that such schemes are a huge success abroad. However, he felt that introducing a sticker scheme in Britain would be too difficult because we're unfamiliar with such schems. I'd rephrase this argument as follows:

"A sticker scheme wouldn't work in the UK because Britons are too thick to fully understand the consequences of not receiving unaddressed unsolicited mail. Consequently, they need to go through a registration process in which it's explained to them that not receiving unsolicited leaflets may result in missing all sorts of special offers and important information."

As things stand, though, the industry is allowed to regulate itself. That its two opt-out schemes for unaddressed junk mail cover only a portion of all unaddressed junk mail, and that hardly anyone is registered with the schemes anyway, is irrelevant. Until, maybe, politicians start realising that billions of unwanted pieces of junk mail could be prevented simply by making it easier for people to say 'no'.

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