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Reduce waste from unwanted mail
Ideas for households

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For many Minnesotans, direct mail – catalogs, flyers, credit card offers, advertising mail – is an interesting addition to the mail pile. But many consider much of it "junk mail" — unwanted and unwelcome

If you are interested in "slowing the flow" of unwanted mail, here are some simple steps to greatly reduce the pile.

Advertising mail by the numbers

Don't surrender to unwanted mailIs unwanted mail a problem in the United States?

Let's do the math.

  • Shipped: 5.56 million tons
  • Recycled: 1.23 million tons (22%)
  • Garbage: 4.33 million tons

Nearly 32 pounds of paper and plastic going into the garbage for every woman, man and child in America?! That's a pretty sizeable "junked mail" problem!

source: Municipal Solid Waste in the United States: 1999 Facts and Figures, U.S. EPA (2001)

Mail Preference Service

spacer Unwanted mail

Households can significantly reduce their advertising mail by through from the Direct Marketing Association. It's easy to do, and you'll be reaching some of the biggest direct marketers in the country with a single letter. Your registration will remain in effect for 5 years.

This service now costs $1 to register, and the process has moved entirely online.

  • Online form (pay online with credit card)
  • Mailback form (fill out online form, print, and mail in with a $1 check or money order.)

The DMA also offers assistance in opting out of unwanted email solicitations.
Learn more about them on their Web site:


Direct Marketing AssociationThe Direct Marketing Association (DMA) is a trade association of businesses who advertise their products and services directly to consumers by mail, telephone, magazine, Internet, radio or television. DMA doesn't do mailings — but its members do.

Q: What does their Mail Preference Service (MPS) do?
A: The Direct Marketing Association will add your name and address to a "delete" file and charge you $1 for the service.

  • Direct Marketing Association members agree not to use your name in marketing products and services, or trade or sell your name to other marketers.
  • This registration can be renewed every five years.

Q: I like getting certain catalogs. Will I still be able to get them?
A: Yes. Mailers want to keep their customers. Ask your preferred mailers to include you on a list for "in-house" use only — a list not sold or shared with others.

Q: Will the service stop all advertising mail?
A: No. The MPS is a national service, but not all mailers use it. You may continue to receive mail from local merchants, associations, charities, political candidates, and generic "occupant/resident" mail.

Q: Can I register my business?
A: No. DMAChoice is for household mail only. Businesses must contact mailers directly to be removed from mail lists.

Learn more:

Credit offers

Pre-approved credit card offers piling up?

The nation's major consumer credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian, Innovis and Trans Union — have cooperated to offer services to help consumers get off lists for pre-approved credit card solicitations.

The services allow you to opt out for two years or permanently. No matter what you pick, the same services make it easy for you to opt back in at any time.

Either process will ask for your social security number, full name, address, and telephone number.

Disposal tip. Make sure to rip up the application form before you discard it. This helps prevent "identity theft" and protects your credit and your privacy.

spacer column A Leaning Tower of Visa
Nearly 3 billion credit card solicitations are sent to consumers every year!

Pile of mail
source: Money magazine

Catalog Choice

A new free service makes it easy for consumers to clear-cut unwanted paper catalogs rather than trees. In its very early testing phase, the process seems very simple:

1. The site asks you to register online.

2. Identify the catalogs that you are receiving that you would like to decline. (You'll need your customer number from the catalog.)

3. Catalog Choice contacts the catalog provider for you, asking that you be removed from that mail list.

The service claims that you should see results in 10 weeks or so, and you can ask them to follow up with merchants that do not comply.

A sponsored project of the Ecology Center. It is endorsed by the National Wildlife Federation and the Natural Resources Defense Council, and funded by the Overbrook Foundation, the Merck Family Fund, and the Kendeda Fund.

Contact individual mailers

Not all companies use these national systems to purge their mailing lists. If you are still getting "junk" from persistent mailers, you can contact the company directly and ask to be placed in their "do-not-mail file." Look at the mail piece to see if there's a number to call, or write them a note, send them an E-mail, or use their Web site. Here are a few thoughts on what to say and do.

Sample language: "Please remove my name from your marketing database. In addition, please do not pass along my name to others through mail list sales or trades. Thank-you for your cooperation."Buried by unwanted mail?

  • Be polite. Most mailers will make an effort to comply with your request — they get to improve their database and ultimately reduce their costs. Even if you are frustrated, you're probably just taking it out on a phone operator or staff person. If you don't get results, you can consider stronger language, or contacting company management.
  • Be prepared. Have the mailing label or catalog handy. Give them the exact match for your name and address. They might appreciate customer ID numbers or other internal identifiers.
  • Be patient. It may take some time to get your name and address out of their mailing cycle.
  • Be persistent. Keep trying. Drive home the message that tyour privacy is an important part of customer service. You do have the right to be left alone.


Mail list brokers

These firms provide national lists for non-financial data.

  • Experian 1-800-228-4571 x4633: Wait through a long message about other options before leaving your name, address and phone number for opting out of Experian's compiled databases.
  • Polk Company 1-800-464-7655: Ask for the "Polk Opt-out Line"

National mailers

These national advertisers compile and maintain large databases of customers nationwide, often for mailing coupons or local, weekly circulars. These materials are generally printed well in advance of mailing, so expect a delay of 6-8 weeks for this opt-out to take effect.

Last updated October 2006

  • Val-Pak mailingVal-Pak (Cox Target Media)
    • Online form: Enter information EXACTLY as it is printed on your Valpak envelope
    • E-mail: Send an e-mail to with REMOVE FROM MAILING in the subject line. Include your address, city, state, and zip/postal code exactly as it appears on the Val-Pak blue envelope or mailing label.

Last updated August 2006

Local services and utilities

Ask your local utilities and service providers — phone, gas, electric, water, cable, newspaper, banking and insurance — about their privacy policies. Find out more about what information they will and will not share about you. Most companies will restrict what they share about their customers, but typically they will only do so if specifically told to. Here are some examples.

  • Qwest
    "We honor customer requests to have their names removed from lists that Qwest might provide to firms desiring to do product promotions. Customers with non-listed and non-published numbers are not included on the lists. For individuals with listed information, if you do not wish to have your name included on such lists, just tell us and we will remove your name at no charge."
  • Citigroup's Privacy Promise for Consumers
    "We will always maintain control over the confidentiality of our customer information. We may, however, facilitate relevant offers from reputable companies. We will tell customers in plain language initially, and at least once annually, how they may remove their names from marketing lists. At any time, customers can contact us to remove their names from such lists."

These links are provided as examples for consumers. They do not represent an endorsement of the companies, their services or their privacy policies. Contact us to add references this list.

Public data from Minnesota state government

State licenses

Minnesota law requires that names and addresses of persons or organizations licensed by the state be made available to the public. From Abstrators to Watercraft, specific lists of license holders and directories can be purchased through the Minnesota Bookstore.

License holders can opt out of these lists by contacting the Mailing List Service: 651-296-0930.

Motor vehicle data

If you're concerned about unwanted mail, this is a small success story.

Beginning August 1, 2000, Minnesota's Driver and Vehicle Services changed its poliOpt-incies on driver's license and registration data. Now, all personal data will automatically be restricted from any use except those authorized by federal law.

Anyone who has no objection to the data being released for commercial or general uses can "opt-in" by indicating consent on their driver's license or vehicle registration application.

Commenting on the change, DPS Commissioner Charlie Weaver said, "As technology plays a greater role in our lives, the privacy of personal information becomes more important. We believe that limiting access to driving information is an important step toward maintaining individual privacy rights."


It may not directly generate paper waste, many consumers have identified unwanted telemarketing calls as an irritant they would like to gain control over. Minnesota began a consumer program in 2002, which contributes members to a national opt-out program that will be first enforced in October 2003.

Minnesota's opt-out program

Do Not Call ListOn May 15, 2002, Governor Jesse Ventura signed into law the "No Call List" bill which is expected to reduce the number of unsolicited telemarketing calls that Minnesota consumers receive. Under this new law, the Minnesota Department of Commerce created a "No Call List" for registering Minnesota residences that do not want to be contacted by telemarketers.

What does it do?

The list should reduce the number of telemarketing businesses that are allowed to call. Only non-profit organizations, businesses with prior relationships with the consumer, political groups, and businesses that will not complete the sale on the phone will be allowed to call and solicit. The Legislature will re-evaluate this part of the bill in a future session.

To register

The Department of Commerce began accepting names on November 4, 2002. Over 650,000 of the state's residents registered in the first week!

Registration is free, and numbers will stay on the list for four years. Households can register their phone numbers in two ways:

National Do Not Call Registry

National Do Not Call RegistryThe Federal Trade Commission created this national registry to offer consumers a choice regarding telemarketing calls. Placing your number on the National Do Not Call Registry will stop most, but not all, telemarketing calls. You may still receive calls from political organizations, charities, telephone surveyors or companies with which you have an existing business relationship.

Registration is free, and will last for 5 years.

  • The list purchased by telemarketers will be updated every 3 months.
  • Starting in September 2003, affected telemarketers will have to remove names found on the national list from their marketing databases.
  • Minnesota's state list will be combined with the federal list by the October deadline, so consumers need not apply to each separately.

Go online to register:

Business-to-Business Mail

Businesses and institutions also receive a great deal of unsolicited mail, such as catalogs and advertising mail for products and services of all kinds. Even when these materials are wanted, there can be a tremendous amount of waste and duplication. Do these sound familiar?

  • Mail for staff members that are long gone.
  • Multiple mailings for the same person, often with small inconsistencies — misspellings, abbreviations — that make them seem like unique records.
  • Poorly targeted mailings, such as office supply catalogs for the CEO or E-commerce seminars for your building maintenance staff.

Handling this unwanted mound of paper and plastic costs you money. There's certainly a lot of paper waste which needs to be sorted and hauled away for disposal or recycling. But perhaps of greater concern is the amount of staff time you may have invested in handling and sorting all of this extra material. In one At one office mailroom, a six-week study showed that the mailroom staff was spending 25 percent of its time sorting Standard Class advertising mail.

Take some steps

Services such as the Mail Preference Service cannot handle the huge volume of records that commercial addresses would generate. Companies that want to work on the problem can follow these steps to try and reduce the amount of waste they receive through the mail.

  • Ask for cooperation. Business-to-business mail is intended to generate income and solicit new business. When you get catalogs, advertising flyers, or offers from companies that you will not do business with, ask them to remove you from their list. Be courteous and professional, but make it clear that you do not wish to receive further mailings from them.
  • Control your exposure. Data for mail lists is collected from many sources — purchases, conference registrations, websites, business cards. If it's information about you, it's likely to be used, traded or sold. Make it clear that you want to control this sharing of your information; make it an element of good customer service. Include a statement about preventing waste and protecting privacy on items like purchase orders, registrations for classes and conferences, and subscriptions.
  • Practice good mail list etiquette. If your organization maintains databases or mail lists, be protective of your clients. Be very selective about how you use data, and offer listed parties the option of not being distributed.
  • Keep your mail lists up-to-date. You waste money and time mailing materials to addresses that are no longer valid. Reduce waste...and conserve resources, too.
  • Spread the word. A company or organization should let everyone know about the goal of minimizing waste from unwanted mail. If employees have personal items delivered to the office, make it clear that the catalogs and mailings that might follow are not acceptable. Are business cards best used to enter a drawing for a free lunch?

Find out a LOT more

    Business Mail
  • Business Junk Mail Reduction Project
    This project of the the National Waste Prevention Coalition provides detailed information and tips to help your business or organization reduce unwanted mail.
  • Ecological Mail Coalition
    This new venture wants to help you spread the word about employees that have left your company. The company markets a service to direct mailers by maintaining a database of the names and work addresses of former employees. Learn more about how you can get involved in this innovative that is free to the organizations that submit information.


Direct mail waste reduction success story

Two departments in the Itasca County Courthouse decreased their junk mail by 90 percent, from about 100 pieces to 10 pieces per week. They did this by sending pre-printed postcards asking that their names be taken off mailing lists. Anyone in the participating departments receiving junk or duplicate mail deposited it in a collection box.

Periodically, a staff person took each piece of mail and enclosed a postcard in the sender's pre-addressed mailer. If this was not supplied, the staff person cut off the portions containing addresses of the sender and the recipient and pasted them to a postcard that read: "To whom it may concern: In an effort to reduce our disposable waste products, we are requesting that you remove our name from your mailing list. Thank you."

Last updates February 2010

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Minnesota Pollution Control Agency