One Online Petition’s Goal: Ending Junk Mail

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As the U.S. Postal Service increasingly promotes its new direct mail program, one group is trying to stop that mail from ever reaching your mailbox.

If you’ve noticed an increase in junk mail lately, you’re probably not imagining things. The post office has been intensifying its promotion of Every Door Direct Mail (you may have seen the ads), a program that has already generated $180 million in sales in its first year. And that probably means only one thing: expect more of it.

That’s why Catalog Choice, a non-profit organization that helps consumers opt-out of receiving unwanted catalogs, coupons and fliers, is now trying to suppress the post office’s newest program.

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The post office’s online program works like this: for 14-and-a-half-cent postage, local businesses can send fliers, coupons, menus and the like directly to your door simply by choosing a nearby ZIP code or mailing route. The mail is unaddressed and unnamed. You know the mailers you get addressed to “Our Neighbor” or “Current Resident”? That’s direct mail.

To combat direct mail, Catalog Choice has started an online petition called Citizens for Mail Choice, which seeks to allow customers the option of opting out. The petition, which started Friday, already has around 35,000 signatures.

“We’re not saying the direct mail program should go away,” says Chuck Teller, executive director of Catalog Choice. “We’re saying it should honor choice.”

The program currently allows for consumers to contact individual businesses if they don’t want their fliers showing up in the mail. But it doesn’t allow consumers to go directly to the post office to stop the mail. Teller argues that just as e-mail accounts have Spam filters, the U.S.P.S. should have its own filter.

“The post office needs to modernize and be responsive to a 21st-century society where the individual is in control,” says Teller.

The problem is that the post office views direct mail as a revenue generator at a time of serious financial troubles. It has some of the best return on investment for U.S.P.S., and with the money it has already generated in its first year, the program is considered a success. Plus, the post office argues that there is already an option for consumers if they don’t want the mail: let the mailer know.

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“But we really don’t think people would want to do that,” says U.S.P.S. spokeswoman Patricia Licata. “Why wouldn’t you want to know what’s going on in your own neighborhood?” Licata says that the program helps consumers and small businesses because it allows them to advertise directly in their own neighborhoods at a low rate.

The post office says it’s not currently set up to handle consumers coming directly to them to be taken off a direct mail list. Considering the postal service is trying to make money through direct mail, it wouldn’t make sense for them to make it easier for consumers to remove themselves from getting junk mail.

That term — junk mail — is anathema around the post office, which is why its employees call it “jobs mail.” Licata says it’s not just the post office’s jobs that direct mail helps support, but those of graphic designers, printers and the small businesses who utilize that form of advertising.

Catalog Choice’s Teller says their petition isn’t about hurting the post office. “We want the post office to survive,” he says. “What we want is the postal service to act like every other business in America and honor choice.”

As for the term junk mail, Teller has a solution for the postal service: “Keep the junk out of the mail and we’ll stop calling it junk mail.”

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