The 15-minute guide to stamping out junk mail is for those of you who don't want to read the full guide. If you prefer the full monty you can hop to the first chapter of the full guide.
Reading the eight "top tips" for eliminating junk mail should take about ten minutes. Just reading isn't going to stop any junk mail though; you're going to need to do some work as well. You're going to sign up to four opt-out schemes; save a copy of a data protection notice; buy a sticker from my website (making one yourself is allowed but you're not allowed to buy a sticker from someone else); and you're going to vow to watch out for t(r)ick boxes and to return any junk mail that slips through the net.
Unaddressed junk mail
Royal Mail delivers lots of unaddressed mail, including leaflets from Domino's Pizza, Farmfoods and Virgin Media. To stop Royal Junk Mail you need to download, print, complete and return and opt-out form. If you don't have a printer you can ask Royal Mail to send you a form in the post – either phone 0345 266 0858 or send an e-mail with your name and address to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Apart from the form Royal Mail will present you with lots of scary warnings about the consequences of stopping unsolicited, unaddressed mail. You can safely ignore the warnings; it are meaningless scare tactics.
After you've send your completed form to Royal Mail the junk mail should stop within six weeks. Your registration will be valid for only two years. You'll have to remind yourself to opt out again before the two years are up – Royal Mail won't send you a reminder and will send you back to square one if you don't re-register in time.
Your Choice Dummy Scheme
Junk mailers love opt-out schemes, and so we have a second opt-out for unsolicited leaflets: the Your Choice Dummy Scheme. It's presented to you by the Direct Marketing Association and is arguably the most silly opt-out service ever invented. It's supposed to stop unaddressed mail distributed by members of the junk mail lobby group. You know, those leaflets from … eh … from eh …. You know which leaflets are distributed by DMA-members, don't you? No? Eh…
You get the point; it's unlikely Your Choice is going to prevent many leaflets, and you'll have no way of knowing whether or not a leaflet that has come through the door should have been prevented. Still, you can register if you want. Send an e-mail to email@example.com to get a form send to you via e-mail, or phone 020 7291 3300 if you prefer to receive the opt-out form in the post. As with the Royal Mail opt-out scheme you can ignore the outlandish warnings in the opt-out pack, and you need to remind yourself to re-register within two years time. Oh, and it will take only three months before your opt out becomes "fully effective"!
The two opt-out schemes for unaddressed mail cover roughly 50% of all unaddressed adverts. The remaining 50% are mostly leaflets from local businesses (take-away menus, estate agent leaflets, business cards – I'm sure you're familiar with the stuff). The best way to cut back on that rubbish is by placing an appropriately worded anti-junk mail sign on your door.
I highly recommend the "NO/NO, NO/YES" stickers in the shop. They stop commercial unaddressed mail and tell deliverers whether or not free newspapers are welcome at your address. This is useful as people have completely different ideas about what is and isn't "junk mail". You might think a leaflet from your local council and that free newspaper are junk mail but your neighbour – and, more importantly, the deliverer – might disagree. With the "NO/NO, NO/YES" stickers there can be little doubt about what items are and aren't welcome.
Addressed junk mail
Mailing Preference Service
You've probably heard of the Mailing Preference Service. It's an opt-out scheme that will stop addressed junk mail from companies that are members of the Direct Marketing Association. Probably more useful is that signing up will also prevent that your name and address are traded amongst list brokers. Registering won't stop all junk mail but it's worth doing – and it's easy: you can opt out on the Interwebs. (The Mailing Preference Service is the only junk mail opt-out scheme that lets you register online!).
One of the limitations of the Mailing Preference Service is that it won't stop mailings from companies whom you have given permission to send you adverts. That means that if you gave your details to a company and failed to tick that marketing opt-out box hidden in the terms and conditions you will get junk mail from the company. Worse, those pesky tick boxes often ask if you're happy for your personal details to be sold to anonymous list brokers (you know, those "carefully selected third parties" desperate to send "special offers"). Even worse, sometimes they use trick boxes which you should not tick if you don't want to give your consent.
In short, if you're at all serious about cutting back on junk mail you're going to need to search for opt-out boxes in the mouseprint every time you give your personal details to a potential junk mailer.
Open electoral register
By law, local electoral registration offices are required to sell an "open" version of the electoral register to junk mailers and people-finding websites such as 192.com (and to anyone else prepared to pay a minimal fee). They don't want to do this: Government is forcing them to in effect subsidise the junk mail industry. You can prevent your name and address are on the 'for sale' register by opting out. Find the details of your electoral registration office on aboutmyvote.co.uk and send them e-mail to say you want to opt out of being included on the open register.
As a bonus tip; you can get 192.com to remove your personal details by completing the company's record removal form (please be kind and print some forms for family and friends as well).
Contact the sender
The Data Protection Act gives you the right to force any UK-based organisation to stop processing your personal details for "direct marketing" (that is, "junk mail") purposes. It's a very effective way of stopping junk mail – junk mailers will have no option but to comply with your request. Your notice will have to be in writing (which can be an e-mail) and needs to be quite posh; to get you started I got an example notice available in plain text and as an Open Office / Libre Office document. Save it on computer for when you need it.
Return to sender
After all the above you might find that some junk mail slips through the net. Your postman might forget you've opted out and some rude companies might ignore your anti-junk mail sticker. And then there are those "To the Occupier" letters, which have been designed to escape all the above measures. My advice is to not recycle such items. Instead, let the sender recycle them!
Addressed mail usually has got a return address, so all you'd need to do is scribble out your name and write something along the lines of "RETURN TO SENDER – JUNK MAIL" on the envelope. Unaddressed mail can be returned in an unstamped envelope, with a polite note asking the sender to respect letterbox stickers in future. If enough people are willing to make the effort junk mailers will become more considerate – eventually.