Junk Mail Gets Returned to Senders

Junk mail. Many get it, many hate it. Most feel powerless to stop it. But employees of the solid waste management utility of Tacoma, Wash., have found a way to decrease the volume of junk mail coming into the city and flooding the waste stream. The solution began by sending citizens just one more piece of unsolicited mail.

The eye-catching mailer arrived in the mailboxes of Tacoma's 81,000 households in 2002, brandishing an ambitious claim: “This could be the last piece of junk mail you'll ever receive.”

The kit includes specific steps to remove residences' names and address from direct-advertising mailing lists and also provides four pre-addressed postcards to fill out and mail to the largest direct-mail advertisers in the country. A list of toll-free phone numbers for data-compiling companies enables residents to directly request these organizations stop selling their personal information to marketers.

“Our citizens' response has been overwhelming,” says Chris Gleason of Tacoma's community relations office. “Despite the irony of how we got the message to them, the citizens were so appreciative of having the tools in hand to take action. Many people knew there were numbers to call and places to write to decrease their junk mail, but they didn't know where to begin looking. We literally handed them a tool kit.”

According to Solid Waste Management Division Manager Al Tebaldi, the junk mail reduction campaign will save the city money. “We figure that if only 4 percent of the residents use the kit, we will break even on the $10,000 cost of sending it out,” he says. “But we're certain more of our customers will make use of the kit and save the city even more money in reduced landfill use and recycling fees.”

Tebaldi based his estimate on 76 pounds of junk mail per year per household. The number was the result of a two-month case study the city conducted in which six city residents saved and weighed their junk mail. Nationwide, the average is 90 pounds per year per household, Gleason says.

“In the solid waste and recycling industry, we often talk about recycling and reusing things to decrease garbage,” Tebaldi says. “But it's even more efficient to reduce the amount of garbage generated to begin with. That's what this program does.”

For more information about Tacoma's junk mail reduction program, visit www.cityoftacoma.org/solidwaste.