Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Junk Mail Experiment

During my annual inbox purge, I came across a forward that I received last fall, but never bothered to read. The only reason I didn't delete it is because the subject matter-- clever ways to reduce spam, junk mail, and unsolicited phone calls-- actually piqued my interest. So I skimmed its contents and was particularly amused by the proposed solution to curb unwanted junk mail.

Now, I'm already on just about every opt-out list that I know of, but I still get my fair share of crap in the mailbox each week. The author of the forward suggested sending the utility company's ads back to them with their payment stubs, but I pay my bills online, so that's not a problem. Then the author shared some suggestions from Andy Rooney, the shouty old curmudgeon with woolly eyebrows who rants about some mild annoyance or other at the end of every 60 Minutes episode. I normally mute the guy, but this time he was in print, and he actually seemed to have a point.

Apparently, Rooney saves the return envelopes from the junk mailings he receives, then stuffs them with generic letters, advertisements, and application forms and drops them back in the mail. This forces companies to dispose of their own junk mail, and it also makes them pay-- twice!-- for sending it out in the first place. Even if there's nothing in the envelope, it still costs about 50 cents to return it to the sender. It sounds like he's careful to shred anything with his name or information on it, yet Rooney crows that the amount of junk mail he receives has decreased dramatically in the years since he's been single-handedly keeping the postal service in business, and that if we all would just do as he does, we could eliminate it entirely.

So I decided to try it for a week. I returned a blank application form to a credit card company, I sent AARP (they shouldn't be sending me stuff yet, anyway!) information on how to save 15% or more on car insurance, and I enclosed pledge forms supporting spay and neuter campaigns to an airline (on which I've never flown) that still wants me to join their frequent flier program. Granted, it was kind of fun, but my conscience kept me from making the experiment as effective as it could have been.

I decided from the outset not to return mailings to charities (many of them don't send out postage paid envelopes, anyway!), which automatically disqualified the majority of the junk mail I receive. But of the mailings I was willing to return, it was kind of fun to give these companies a chance to experience firsthand the frustration of receiving junk in the mail. Ultimately, though, I decided that my time would be better spent doing just about anything else. I guess I'm not cantankerous enough to single-handedly eliminate junk mail, but at least I tried!

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