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Government forces industry to help people reduce junk mail

A new deal between the Government and junk mail industry will introduce a wide range of measures to help people cut back on junk mail. Amongst others, the industry will finally introduce an online 'one-point-stop' for opting out of receiving unsolicited mail.

The latest 'producer responsibility deal', which aims to cut waste caused by junk mail, forces the junk mail industry to introduce measures it had wanted to avoid. The industry will make it easier for people to opt out of receiving unaddressed mail, and a voluntary environmental standard for junk mail will become more strict.

Your choice

Particularly painful for the industry is the demand that people should be able to opt-out of receiving unaddressed mail via the website of the Mailing Preference Service. The existing opt-out services for unaddressed mail, the Door-to-Door Opt-Out and the Your Choice Preference Scheme, will be merged into a single opt-out service for unaddressed mail. The changes will be introduced in April 2012.

The Your Choice scheme was launched in 2008 and hailed as a service that would make it easier for people to stop unwanted unaddressed mail. However, the Direct Marketing Association failed to advertise the existence of the scheme, and as a result only 1,600 households (0.006%) have registered so far. Royal Mail's Door-to-Door Opt-Out, which also doesn't allow people to register online, has an opt-out rate of just under 0.8%.

So far, the industry had been unwilling to support existing one-point-stops for reducing junk mail. When Stop Junk Mail launched Junk Buster, in March 2009, the Direct Marketing Association urged the campaign group to cease its service. Stay Private, a similar opt-out website introduced by Consumer Focus in June 2010, has also not been endorsed by the junk mail lobby group.

Apart from making registering easier Defra has asked the industry to start promoting its opt-out services. By 2014 at least 30% of people should be aware of the existence of the new opt-out scheme. Currently, the industry is not measuring how many people know about its opt-out schemes for unaddressed mail.

PAS 2020

The industry's voluntary environmental standard for junk mail, PAS 2020, will become more strict. From April 2012 junk mail from companies that are members of the Direct Marketing Association will have to include information about how recipients can unsubscribe from receiving future advertisements. When Defra first made this suggestion, in November 2007, the industry rejected it as "an unsophisticated and blunt axe response".

The junk mail industry will also develop a 'carbon calculator' to measure the environmental impact of junk mail. Apart from being able to estimate the carbon footprint of junk mail it is hoped the calculator will encourage mail houses to further reduce the industry's environmental impact.

'No Junk Mail' signs

The deal only applies to members of the Direct Marketing Association and does not cover junk mail distributed by local businesses and items such as paper directories and free newspapers. Defra recognises the measures imposed on the industry could result in junk mailers cancelling their membership of the association in an attempt to continue business as usual. The agreement states that Defra "will commit to engage with other parts of the industry" to prevent this from happing but it does not specify how it will do this.

In an interview with Radio 5 the environment secretary, Ms Spelman, acknowledged that the new opt-out website will not cover unaddressed mail from local businesses, such as take-away outlets and estate agents. However, she urged local businesses to respect householders who have a 'No Junk Mail' sign on their door. Although Government will not introduce sanctions against local businesses ignoring such signs it is another significant change; both Royal Mail and the Direct Marketing Association have so far never endorsed 'No Junk Mail' signs.

Proactive approach

In the same interview Ms Spelman suggested the Mailing Preference Service will become an opt-in / opt-out scheme. On the new website people will need to create an account and they will be encouraged to indicate which types of advertising mail people would like to receive. This information can then be sold to third parties. In all likelihood people will have the option to opt out of receiving any type of addressed junk mail.

The Direct Marketing Association told Marketing Week it hopes its "proactive" approach will "head off any lingering threat of statutory regulation that would lead to a damaging reduction in mail volumes." The association hopes that making it easier for people to reduce unwanted mail will improve targeting and increase the 'return on investment' of unsolicited mail.


Last updated: 
1st November 2011