Mail block

Looking for a junk mail solution?

If the mailbox inspires fear, particularly as holiday catalog time approaches, there may be a solution.

If the mailbox inspires fear, particularly as holiday catalog time approaches, there may be a solution.

Photo By David Robert

Imagine a service that gets rid of junk mail.

If it worked, it would be a major contribution to curbing use of resources. (It also raises freedom of expression issues, but we’re dealing just with the ecological issues here.) If the amount of junk mail declined, paper, ink and other materials would be used in smaller amounts. It wouldn’t stop there. Less paper would be manufactured, reducing energy consumption in the timbering/manufacturing process. Less paper and ink and so on would be shipped, using less fuel. Less printed matter would be shipped, using less fuel. If it worked.

There’s the rub. Consumer skepticism is common. A blog called The Doctor What, for instance, notes, “I cannot tell if these [services] are legit or not. Doing searches on the internet are largely self referential. The problem with this kind of service is that they could, in theory, sign you up for the Direct Marketing Association’s do-not-mail list and stop there. You would notice a decrease in mail and … they could say, ‘Well, we stopped a whole lot. We can’t be perfect.’ How could you tell?”

Among the services that claim to offer junk mail reduction are 41 Pounds, Green Dimes, the Direct Mail Association and Catalog Choice. The last two are free. charges a fee of $41 for five years and says it makes contributions to nonprofit groups for each customer who signs up. charges $15 as a one-time fee and says it plants trees for every customer.

Both 41 Pounds and Green Dimes use the kind of techniques that The Doctor What pointed out people can do for themselves. Green Dimes tells customers they will have to register with the Direct Marketing Association’s do-not-mail list and pay the $1 fee. After the customer does that, “Each month GreenDimes monitors the … mailing list to ensure that your name gets off and stays off their mailing lists.” Both also send customers pre-printed post cards to mail to firms that require signatures for do-not-mail requests.

But it does appear that these companies also do things that would be too onerous for a working person to take time to do. Green Dimes, for instance, lets customers cherry-pick lists of catalogs, getting them removed from some lists and not others. (When we contacted Green Dimes and asked them to suggest ways to independently verify their claims, the best they could do was send names of customers to be interviewed.)

Green Dimes received—and posted on its website—a complaint from customer Marsha Corder about her credit card number being used: “That is when I found out that Green Dimes uses DMA services, and I was charged additional on my credit card. Shame on you, Green Dimes! DMA told me they were getting a lot of unhappy phone calls.” Green Dimes said the charge was referenced on the website, but only during “the registration process.” Springing the fee on the customer only after s/he starts signing up seems to merit legitimate concern. Green Dimes said it would change the site “to address this concern.”

Catalog Choice, which was formed by three environmental groups, is free but devotes its efforts mainly to catalogs, not all junk mail, so those Bank One credit card offers and casino flyers will still make it through.

Of course, if you’re willing to spend the money, there’s no law against using all four services. Just remember: Buyer beware.