In Thursday's debate about junk mail in the House of Lords, the election campaign organiser for the Lib Dems, Lord Razzal, made an interesting point in support of junk mail. He said:
"The Nobel Lord the Minister would accept that anyone who is in charge of political campaigning is unlikely to wish to see restrictions on unsolicited, or unwanted, mail. This of course would stop political campaigning as we know it."
It's a fair point, which has in the past also been put forward by both Royal Mail and the Direct Marketing Association. In short, the argument is that it's impossible to know what unsolicited items people do and don't want to receive and that it's therefore best to do nothing to reduce junk mail. It's also the reason why Royal Mail and the Direct Marketing Association give people who want to register with opt-out schemes for unaddressed mail (the Door-to-Door Opt-Out and Your Choice Preference Scheme) rather draconian warnings about the consequences of opting out.
The argument, I reckon, is only true in a narrow / philosophical sense. In practice, it's quite clear what people do and don't want to get through their letter box. Most people don't mind non-commercial items, such as a leaflet from their local ward councillor or a street newsletter. It's also quite clear what most do object to; commercial advertisements, such as take-away menus.
This distinction between commercial and non-commercial advertising mail is quite useful and already common in countries such as Australia and Canada. It makes opt-out schemes for unaddressed mail redundant (as it removed the need to make sure people make 'an informed decision') and it means people not interested in unaddressed advertising leaflets only need to put a 'No Junk Mail' sign on their letter box.
Stop Junk Mail's anti-junk mail stickers stickers (see images below) are based on the signs you can see on letter boxes all over the Netherlands. They not only separate commercial and non-commercial leaflets but also give people the option to stop free local newspapers. Reducing junk mail can really be that easy. In Holland, when you put a 'No Junk Mail' sign on your door the postman will stop delivering door-to-door items with immediate effect. Back in the sorting room he will mark your pigeon hole to ensure that no further leaflets are delivered to your house. It's quick, effective and customer friendly.