Britain drowning under a tide of junk mail

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Why unaddressed paper ‘spam’ has to stop

The average household now receives over 500 pieces of junk mail every year, with the figure showing no sign of decline.

While direct advertising is a mainstay of many businesses, the truth is that up to 90% is binned unread, leading to millions of tonnes of paper waste every year, a Yorkshire-based waste management and recycling company says.

According to BusinessWaste.co.uk, the worst offenders for unaddressed marketing to Britain’s 25 million households are takeaway food businesses, charities, supermarkets, and banks and insurance companies.

“Among these companies are some of the UK’s best-known brands,” says Business Waste spokesperson Mark Hall, “and some of them claim to be champions of the environment.”

BusinessWaste.co.uk asked some 2500 households all over the UK about how they deal with so-called junk mail and found that the vast majority of people treat it as exactly that:

• 89% – We bin promotional leaflets without reading them
• 11% – We read promotional mail before disposing of it or keeping it

• 57% – We don’t bother recycling leaflets, unaddressed mail or takeaway menus, they just go straight in the bin

The waste management company found that the most likely companies and organisations who resort to direct addressed and unaddressed mailing are:

• Charities (including charity collection bags)
• Estate agents (which tend to use higher quality card or paper for their promotions)
• Banks and insurance companies
• Supermarkets promoting local offers
• Takeaway menus

It’s the takeaway menus which are less likely to be ignored, with some households interviewed by BusinessWaste.co.uk saying they had drawers full of them, some being antiques going back several years.

“It’s the charity begging letter, often with a pen, blank greetings card and other free gifts asking for a donation or direct debit that’s most likely thrown away unread,” BusinessWaste.co.uk ‘s Mark Hall says. “Ironically, some of these are environmental charities, so heaven knows what they’re thinking in their head offices.”

Unfortunately, Royal Mail’s current business model relies on postmen delivering wads of junk mail to households all over the country, Business Waste says.

Despite the newly-privatised company’s “Sustainable Advertising Mail” policy that encourages responsible sourcing of paper for mail-shots, the fact remains that over half of these marketing messages will end up in general waste and won’t be recycled. The companies involved also know that just one business lead out of hundreds of leaflets will make the marketing exercise truly cost-effective.

“The sheer scale of direct mailing in the UK is mind-boggling,” says Hall. “We’re talking over 500 pieces of mail per household per year – that’s billions of unsolicited pieces of junk mail.

“In terms of trees, conservative estimates put that at six million every year, despite attempts at using sustainable sources.”

While calling on companies to ease the flow of junk mail, Business Waste notes that less than 10% of households are signed up to the Mailing Preference Service or other door-to-door opt-out schemes.

“We can help slash paper waste by refusing junk mail in the first place,” says Hall, “but companies can make things easier by not sending it at all.”

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