Unwanted mail

Some or all advertising mail items can be judged as unwanted; this can include addressed and unaddressed items, flyers and free newspapers.

Key Points

For some householders, direct mail is a useful marketing service while others are keen to reduce waste from what may be an unsolicited source. You will need to provide the information so householders can make the choice. 

There are three main registration services for reducing unwanted mail:

As the result of a voluntary industry agreement, Defra and DMA announced the launch of a Single Preference Service, a single opt-out system combining the DMA and Royal Mail separate systems that consumers could complete online, but this has not been launched. 

The broad definition of “unwanted mail” encompasses the following:

  • Direct mail - advertising that targets potential new customers (usually as a brochure or flyer) and advertising that targets existing customers offering new or extended services and/or products. 
  • Door to door materials - unaddressed advertisements posted by hand usually via the Royal Mail addressed to “The Occupier”.
  • Inserts - advertising material in magazines and newspapers such as information on sales being held by retailers.
  • Free newspapers - local, own-branded newspapers delivered and supplied free of charge to local householders. e.g. local estate agent newspapers.

Between 2003 and 2009, the volume of advertising mail sent to landfill has fallen by 80%, largely as a result of recycling activity. Now, advertising mail represents around 0.4% of the average household’s unrecycled waste. 

Barriers

This section is about understanding the barriers to reducing unwanted mail, how to overcome them and information provision.  

Typical barriers include:

  • Lack of knowledge of how to reduce unwanted mail. Over 50% of people are not aware of the MPS.
  • Lack of time to sign up to the preference services or opt-out services; 
  • Lack of knowledge of how to benefit from opt-out services;
  • Fear of restricting choice (e.g. not receiving free newspapers);
  • Fear of negative spin-offs e.g. people are worried that they will stop receiving important circulars or favorite catalogues if they sign up to the MPS;
  • Residents don’t want to display a large/unattractive sticker on their letterbox;
  • Residents don’t see why they should have to go to the trouble of removing themselves – it should be the companies’ or Government’s responsibility; and
  • Some people like receiving direct mail.

Local Authority Support

As a local authority, you can offer practical support to overcome these barriers such as the provision of:

  • A link to MPS registration page and to Royal Mail opt out form online from your Council's website
  • A link to details of Your Choice or Royal Mail Door-to-Door Opt Out and/or change of address services when moving house online from your Council's website
  • A link to the Bereavement register and babyMPS for limiting mail addressed to deceased residents online from your Council's website
  • Template letters for householders to use and send to companies they already have a relationship with online from your Council's website
  • Clear information about what the different options provide online from your Council's website
  • Placing press releases in local newspapers, newsletters and posters on notice-boards in community centres and libraries (avoid leaflets)
  • Distributing materials direct to householders when requested via door to door canvassing
  • Well designed and tested stickers.

Let residents know of the efforts that are currently being made such as A Responsibility Deal between the UK, Scottish and Welsh Governments and the direct marketing sector was published in 2011. 

It is important when promoting the opt out services to make it clear what direct mail will and won't be delivered as a result of signing up to the different opt out services. 

If you only promote the MPS option this will only stop some unwanted mail. It is likely you will also need to promote example letters for individuals to use with companies they already have a relationship with.

If residents carry out these actions it may mean they do not receive council information. You may need to review the way you communicate with your residents. 

Monitoring

If you have decided to carry out a campaign you may want to monitor how effective the campaign is. The following are worth considering: 

  • To monitor a campaign record registrations to the registration services before and after a campaign and/or on an ongoing basis. Information can be obtained from the DMA on MPS registration to postcode level. Information on Your Choice is only available at the national level and The Royal Mail is not able to provide any data. 
  • To set a baseline or a before level of registrations ideally monitor numbers for at least three months before the campaign starts. Once you know the number of local MPS registrations you can convert this to an estimated tonnage diversion for this option. 

There is limited data available to calculate diversion from the wide range of options to reduce unwanted mail but work carried out in Essex indicates around 4kg/hh/yr can be diverted when households sign up to the Mail Preference Service.

The overall aim, of course, should be to reduce unwanted mail.