November 18, 2018

Junk Mail, Why Art Thou?

Welcome to the holidays, my friend. All that unsolicited and unwanted mail is starting to hit the U.S. postal system. Hundreds of millions of pieces of junk mail are sent out annually and none of it is requested by the recipient. Junk mail comes at a huge cost to our quality of life. Junk mail exposes your private information by sharing your name, address, and purchasing habits with marketers around the country as well as all those credit card offers that could put you at risk for identity theft.

The ecological impact is staggering. 5.6 million tons of catalogs and direct mail advertisements end up in U.S. landfills annually. 44% of junk mail is never opened and only half of that mail is recycled. The average American household receives 848 pieces of junk mail annually. Americans pay 370 million dollars to dispose of junk mail that never gets recycled.

Junk mail is the creature of large direct mail companies who enter into reduced postage rate arrangements with the USPS in order to send massive amounts of paper catalogs, solicitations, coupons, postcards and flyers to people who do not want the mail to begin with! If the proper postage is affixed, the USPS is legally required to deliver that junk. Opting out is not easy and whether you elect to opt out temporarily or permanently, there is a risk. To opt out, you are asked to provide some personal information, including your home telephone number, name, Social Security number and date of birth. The information is supposedly confidential but anytime that you put this type of information out on the internet, you cannot be sure where it will eventually end up.

Charities are a big player in the direct mailing business. Most charities attempt to raise additional funds by selling the names of donors to marketing organizations or swapping mailing lists with other nonprofits. Less than 18% have any type of privacy policy in place. Individuals cannot escape the solicitations even if they put their name on do-not-call lists as charities are exempt from these lists on First Amendment grounds.

Credit card companies as well as all the major retail chains sell your information regardless of what they say in their credit disclosure forms. They tell you that they only sell your information to their “affiliates” which, of course, are never identified. Direct Mail firms avoid many U.S. restrictions by calling or mailing from off shore locations or from places like India or Bangladesh.

There is no clear cut or easy way to avoid getting all this mail sent to you. Because of the amount of junk mail being sent out at reduced rates, the USPS is forced to raise their rates on First Class mail. So, in effect, we are paying twice for the delivery of junk mail. During the holidays, the amount of junk mail increases by as much as 40% and the total amount of junk mail delivered each year comes in at a staggering 109 billion pieces of mail! As long as the USPS continues its policies of delivering junk mail at reduced rates, be prepared to recycle your “full” mailbox.

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Written by
Donald Wittmer

DONALD WITTMER is a retired business executive who held key roles in the automotive and banking sectors. For a time, he also served as a Fiscal Agency Manager for the Detroit branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. He received his undergraduate degree from Cincinnati's Xavier University, an M.A. in business management from Central Michigan University, and earned certification in bank operations from the School of Banking at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. A husband, father, and grandfather, he teaches part-time at the Kent Place School for Girls in Summit, New Jersey.

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1 comment
  • Oh Dear! How sour you are! I’m not all that crazy about the quantity of unsolicited mail I receive, but it surely isn’t as evil as you make it out to be. And what does this have to do with “the faith”?

Written by Donald Wittmer