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Junk mail – a royal pain in the neck or a Royal Mail necessity?

Junk mail in letter box

Junk mail – does anyone like getting it? Marketers have many names for it (advertising mail, direct mail) but whatever you call it, there’s no doubt it’ll be staring back at you when you make your way to the front door.

In fact, you might have a hard time finding your personal mail in amongst all those glossy ads, leaflets and menus.

And who delivers much of it? Royal Mail. In a recent Panorama special on the issue, Why Hate Junk Mail?, it was suggested that Royal Mail’s survival relies heavily on junk mail.

Since we’re all sending less by post, the reliability of junk mail (1.7 billion pieces of it was delivered by Royal Mail last year) is apparently helping to prop the company up. Richard Hooper, who authored a report on the future of our postal services, commented:

‘There is absolutely no question that advertising mail, which the critics describe as junk mail, is central to the viability of the Royal Mail in the 21st century.’

So, just as many of you have told us that you’re happy to put up with growing stamp prices, it seems that if you want to keep Royal Mail, you’re going to have to put up with junk mail as well.

The price of junk mail

And you won’t see the back of your junk mail after throwing it straight into your bin. You’ve still got to pay to get rid of it – whether it’s sending it to landfill (which isn’t very good for the environment) or recycling it.

The county of Cornwall paid £700,000 to send its junk mail to landfill last year, and recycling it would still cost £500,000. When you extrapolate this out to the rest of England, we’re spending around £50 million per year to get rid of mail we didn’t even want in the first place.

Then again, Royal Mail says the amount of direct mail being sent to landfill has fallen by 80% since 2003 and that it’s ahead of recycling targets.

Royal Mail’s defence of “direct mail”

Royal Mail is defiant in its response to junk mail critics:

‘We do not recognise the term “junk mail”. Companies use direct mail because it has proven results. Direct mail accounts for more than £16 billion in sales for the UK economy every year.

‘Many households find the information useful. If they do not do so, there are many established ways of stopping it.’

That is, in part, true. You can certainly opt out of “unaddressed” mail, which you can find out about on Royal Mail’s website. But it’s still legally obliged to deliver anything with your address on it, including (if you can believe it) mail addressed “To the occupier”.

So, are you fed up with junk mail? Should Royal Mail do more to help us avoid all types of marketing post? At the moment it feels like this country is drowning in junk mail and the Royal Mail’s addicted to it.

Have you tried to stop junk mail?

Yes - and it's helped reduce it (37%, 211 Votes)

Yes - but it hasn't worked (35%, 198 Votes)

No - I don't know how to (20%, 112 Votes)

No - I can't be bothered (9%, 50 Votes)

Total Voters: 571

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The long term answer is hidden in the statement :

“Companies use direct mail because it has proven results. Direct mail accounts for more than £16 billion in sales for the UK economy every year.”

If we stopped responding to it companies would stop using it !

I would probably use the Royal Mail opt out service IF it would separate direct mail from public bodies such as councils and governments from commercial advertising.

Hi Patrick dont really follow your comments , why wouldn’t expanding the RM opt out service improve matters ?

If the junk mail is addressed to you I dont see how or why Royal Mail should do anything about it.
There is the MPS, opting out of the full Electoral Register and ticking the correct box when giving your address to companies. These measures I would suggest get rid of 90% of addressed junk mail. It does for me.

Scott says:
8 September 2021

It’s the mail not addressed to you ‘junk mail’ that is the problem for many. If it has a name or ‘to the occupier’ then that should be delivered but junk mail is a waste

Damn Young says:
24 July 2011

The thing that annoys me the most is when they print my name and address several times inside unsolicited junk mail. I have to open them, and then tear out my details, after searching for them, before putting what’s left in the recycling bin. The bits with my details on go on the fire, as no personal identification ever makes it to my bins. Don’t get me started on ‘Betterbuys’ catalogues, or so called charity bags that come through the door.OK, you got me started. They expect me to dutifully put those catalogues outside my door, littering the place. It is not their decision to make, which is why they usually end up in the recycling bin. The ‘charity’ bags are put through my letterbox by limited companies, not charities. Very little, if any, of the proceeds make it to the charity. Even if they did, they would be stolen by the charity executives, who take obscene 6 figure salaries out of donated funds. People who work part time for charities, should be unpaid. People who work full time for them should recieve the minimum wage. There’s an off-topic cause for you to champion.

The Mail service still delivers junk despite being asked not you (registered) and a sign on the post box; yet fails to deliver letters I have stamped with record of delivery and loses my mail on route to me, delivering it between 2 and 4pm three to 7 days late on a 1st class stamp.

No wonder they are going out of business

Three separate points about so-called ‘junk mail’:

1. Opting out of Royal Mail direct advertising won’t stop the numerous other stuff that comes through my letterbox, such as for local takeaways and taxi firms. Some leaflet deliverers will even bypass my security to get to my door, or dump leaflets on my drive / leave them sticking visibly out of my letterbox. This is highly infuriating. At least, the postman delivers properly.

2. Royal mail delivers advertising mail inefficiently. There are often several leaflets bundled together and the ones that are inside are easy to miss. It’s a known fact that the most effective direct advertising is delivered as single leaflets. Companies are wasting their money by using Royal Mail.

3. I actually LOVE ‘junk mail’. I belong to a survey panel that pays me to forward it to them! So I’m recycling and making money at the same time! I don’t find such mail intrusive and on occasions I’ve responded to adverts. What I hate is cold calling (in person or on the phone), as that really IS a violation of my privacy (with direct mail, you have a choice of reading it or ignoring it at a time that suits you).

Joanna says:
24 August 2011

Hi, I’ve moved house since May and recently starting getting all kinds of unsolicited junk mail addressed to the old address and directly to me. I am most concerned that this is all going to my old address and that my details are so easily available and cannot understnad what has happened.

The only thing I can think of is being put on the elect register but I am sure my mum ticked the opt out box and she doesnt get anything. I only ever receive post from my bank, my hospital (as undergoing treatment) DWP at the present time due to health problems so cant understand it.

Tuesday I received a catalogue so I phoned the company who said I could be on a cold calling list…what is this and how do I remove myself. BTW I have since registered on the MPS but note that it takes 4 months. Any further advice please

Joanna says:
24 August 2011

ps I always tick the dont contact me by post boxes etc not that i ever fill anything out

robert smith says:
21 October 2011

I live with junk mail because it gives me some pleasure. I am retired so have some time on my hands and I get great pleasure in being spiteful and returning the junk mail to sender. The biggest benefit of this is that it helps to keep the Royal Mail in business. Therefore I will not arrange to have junk mail cancelled or stopped.
Occasionally I receive junk which I consider to be unacceptable and I still return it but in a different way. I once received junk from the Netherlands advertising various sex aids. This one I turned around and requested they remove me from their mailing list but carefully wrapped their junk and my request in a brick! Needless to say I have not heard anything more from them. It must have cost them a lot of money in paying the postage.
I received a request for a donation from a major political party whose policies I do not agree with. I sent them a shoe box filled with firewood and the message “add this to the rest of your f*****s”. They removed me from their list and do not write to me anymore.
Both of the above where sent RTS with no postage and they had to pay. Generally this type of excess payment ends up at the front reception and causes a lot of embarrassment but it sure hits them where it hurts.
Regarding telephone junk, the easiest way is to leave the answer phone on, the cold caller will never leave a message, or answer it and when they ask to speak to mr/mrs blog say ” hold on I’ll just get them” put the phone down and walk off. Although the telephone preference service is well worth it but there will always be some companies who don’t give a damn.
Fax junk, leave it off till you want to use it.
Junk e-mails are more of a problem but you can always find the address of a company and use the RTS method above.
Hugs & Love Robert Smith

For email junk, you can block addresses, so you’ll never see it again. I doubt whether RTS would work for email.

Mike says:
5 November 2011

Never used mailing preference service but years ago started sending mail back to where it came from,”return to sender, unsolicited junk mail”. This stopped all junk mail with the exception of VIRGIN MEDIA – they are persistant. Used to address letters to myself, then to the occupier and for the last year my wife. BRITISH TELECOM – almost as bad, a close second to Virgin and same adrdress tactic used. BRITISH GAS – a close third especially after the annual service with mail advertising updating central heating system followed by loan offers – probably to pay for it!
Doesn’t matter how much of this junk mail you send back to these three companies it still keeps coming.

I thought I’d give their Opt-out service a go. Luckily I knew in advance that it would be a waste of time. Just had another pile drop through my letterbox 🙁

And not one of the 6 bits had an address on it.

The only saving grace was the nice man who answered the phone in the opt out office.

Since my last post I’ve now had a further 2 piles of junk mail delivered by the Royal Fail. They’ve flately refused to give any compensation, so I’m tempted to just put it back into the nearest letterbox.

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23 May 2012

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Tenpasenta says:
25 September 2012

Internet advertisers make a big deal of directing their adverts to people who may be interested via tailored adverts, so why does junk mail via the post still use a scatter gun approach? I’d guess because it’s easy and the Royal mail like this add on business. I feel that it is not the Royal mails job to distribute leaflets, however well it fits in with their current service.

Lol.Lambart says:
11 May 2015

I have applied for opt out of junk mail but royal mail still puts it through my letter box, So I now return all the junk mail back into a Royal mail letter box and see how they like it,,,,..

Jack says:
6 December 2015

Can’t we set the greenies on them and make it politically incorrect? Surely the biggest cost is deforestation?

David Jones says:
16 May 2017

Why not send it back to Moya Greene CEO as I do and let her have all the junk mail going to her office every day and just think of the cost to her office with no stamps on the junk mail Address to send to is
Moya Greene. Chief Executive’s Office Royal Mail. Royal Mail Headquarters. Royal Mail Group Ltd.
100 Victoria Embankment. London. EC4Y 0HQ

about 10 weeks ago I sent an opt out form but I am still receiving ” junk mail”.i don’t know if it will work but I am now returning all such “mail”to royal mail.they have very kindly supplied a “freepost” address to which you send the opt out form we will see what happens I also include my address so they know who is sending their rubbish back to them

Matthew White says:
13 January 2021

I had to seal my letterbox completely to stop it. I also threatened to attack the next person who put junk mail though my letterbox. Now I get no mail, just the way I like it. Royal Mail are guilty of harassment by refusing to stop delivering this rubbish and I won’t jump through any of their hoops as, they will keep sending anyway. Just sack them and bar them from coming anywhere near your door. Email works just fine for me.

Phil says:
13 January 2021

It’s hardly your postie’s fault is it? They have to deliver what’s put in their sack, it’s what they’re underpaid to do.

I get more tucked into magazines than I get delivered by post.

I agree with Phil. Unless the junk mail is addressed to me or has a plastic wrapper it goes straight into the recycling bin.

Compared with nuisance calls that demand immediate attention dealing with junk mail is not a major problem, at least for me.

I dismiss Matthew’s comments as ridiculous. Junk mail delivered by the Royal Mail is not the biggest problem we have to face. A company has paid for the material to be delivered and the Royal Mail has no alternative but to do so. Sealing up the letterbox and threatening to attack anyone who puts junk mail through it are not examples of responsible consumer behaviour. Doing what Wavechange does with junk mail takes seconds. Why get into an anger state over such a trivial thing?

Some important information will not come in e-mail form.

junk mail can be recycled so it’s not all wasted. There are more objectionable forms of advertising and promotion.

I also endorse what Phil has written. One monthly magazine I subscribe to has more than its own weight of promotional material tucked inside it, none of it addressed specifically to me, of course. I take the view that without the ‘junk’ the magazine subscription would not be affordable.