This weekend I've been working on our very first Stop Junk Mail video. It's called The Occupier and I'm hoping it will be the first of a series of junk mail videos. That is, if I will get a bit quicker at editing - making this four minute film took me almost two days… You better enjoy it!
Here's a date for your diary: 15 November 2008, Junk Mail Revenge Day.
The idea for the 'Revenge Day Plot' started on Facebook [Link removed in May 2012 as it looks like the group no longer exists / has been deleted by Facebook - JB], but anyone can join in. All you need to do is collect any junk mail with a return address between now and 15 November 2008. Then, on Revenge Day, put it all back in post.
It's an interesting experiment. If everybody would return all the junk mail they are not interested in the era of 'economy of scale' marketing would soon be behind us. Unfortunately, most junk mail ends up in the (recycling) bin. This does nothing to reduce waste, to stop the destruction of ancient forests or to reduce your Council Tax bill. The Revenge Day can change all this, simply by making the sender pay.
So far I've collected three pieces of junk mail; one of those annoying 'To the Occupier' items from HSBC; an appeal from Cancer Research UK (a charity renowned for sending large amounts of junk mail) and a letter from Charles Clarke MP (who, I'm sure, can afford the return postage.
A local newspaper in Dorset today reports about an elderly woman who received no less than 100kg of junk mail in just six months time. Eight bin bags full of unsolicited junk were collected from the lady's home by officers from Trading Standards at Dorset County Council. They had found out about the mailings as a result of the nationwide Scamnesty campaign.
The reason why the lady was targeted so heavily was that she had replied to a couple of scam letters. Her name and address were added to a so-called suckers list and sold amongst fraudulent marketeers. In no time she received up to 25 pieces of junk mail a day.
You can report scams online on the Consumer Direct website. These reports are passed on to Trading Standards and the Office of Fair Trading for action. I can't emphasize enough that it's worth doing this; scams are a priority for both Trading Standards and the Office of Fair Trading, but they are unable to anything about them if people can't be bothered to contact them.
Information about scams is available on both the Consumer Direct [ Link removed in April 2012 as the pages no longer exist, JB ] and Stop Junk Mail website. More information can also be found in a number of useful leaflets published by the Office of Fair Trading:
What is the link between this image above and junk mail?
The answer is catalogues. A relatively small problem in the UK, but an environmental disaster in the States, where the catalogue industry sends out more than 20 billion of them every year. Most of these catalogues are made of virgin fibre and discarded without ever being looked at. In the process, many endangered forests are completely destroyed.
To highlight this issue, American campaign group ForestEthics (also one of the main players in the campaign for a Do Not Mail register in the States) launched a high-profile campaign against lingerie catalogue Victoria's Secret, in October 2004. The campaigners accused the company behind Victoria's Secret, Limited Brands, of using paper from endangered forests in Canada and the Southern US for the million catalogues the companies sends out every day.
Under the campaign slogan Victoria's Dirty Secret, ForestEthics took out full-page adverts in national newspapers depicting among others chainsaw-wielding women in their underwear. Its website (which unfortunately now redirects visitors to the main ForestEthics website) got over a million unique visitors and protests were held outside Victoria's Secret HQ.
The campaign was a success in that Limited Brands adopted a new policy to shift to more environmentally friendly paper in December 2006. However, encouraging as this may be, the amount of (virgin) paper used for junk mail in the US continues to be astronomical by any standard.
Occasionally, I am contacted by people who have come up with their own solutions for stopping junk mail. A while ago I received an e-mail from someone who returns any junk mail received to the sender with the following standard letter:
Dear Sir or Madam,
A representative of your organisation recently posted a leaflet / brochure / newsletter / flyer through my letter box.
A notice adjacent to the letter box clearly states that such unsolicited items, junk mail in normal language, are not welcome at my property. This notice was ignored by your representative and the junk mail delivered.
This act is extremely rude and reflects badly on your organisation. Your cause has now no chance of any support from members of my household.
The action of delivering junk mail despite a clear request against this causes the offending mail to be classed as litter. Prosecutions for littering are brought under section 87, Offence of Leaving Litter, of the Environmental Protection Act 1990.
A record of your organisation, the date of this offence and the date of posting of this generic letter has been taken and any further junk mail received by your organisation will result in action through legal means.
Yours faithfully, etc.
Of course I did look up section 87 of the Environmental Protection Act. It's unlikely that taking a junk mail offender to court would have any chance of being successful. But? sending the standard letter does work. No company wants to risk being taken to court by a radical junk mail hater.