Clearing the junk mail clutter is easier than ever

NEW YORK -- There's nothing like a flood of holiday catalogs -- followed by an even bigger flood of post-holiday sales catalogs -- to make families think about trying to get their names off mailing lists.

Unwanted catalogs and other unsolicited mail create clutter in a home, take a toll on the nation's forests and require time and energy to clear away.

So it's good news that consumers have more options for getting off mailing lists. Some of the opt-out programs are sponsored by mass marketing trade groups, but a growing number are run by groups with ecological goals.

Besides saving trees, some families may want to cut unwanted mail for privacy reasons, said Pam Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum research group in Carlsbad.

"It's a problem of annoyance," she said. "People want to be left alone, and they have a right to be left alone."

Dixon said most people are aware they can get off telemarketing lists by registering their phones on the "do not call" list maintained by the Federal Trade Commission. "But when it comes to things like catalogs, prescreened credit card offers, spam, things like that, they're not sure what to do," she said.

So the forum has developed a how-to list titled the "Top 10 Opt Outs" that's posted on its Web site:

Dixon noted that eliminating unwanted mail cuts the amount of personal information that's in circulation, removing a source for identity thieves.

Families seeking to reduce catalogs and other mass market mailings can contact the Direct Marketing Association, which runs the Mail Preference Service.

In the past, consumers had to opt out of all lists. But an updated DMA Web site launched in January at allows consumers to opt out, or even opt in, to a particular company's mailing list. As part of the update, the DMA dropped the $1 fee for the online service.

Consumers also can write to the DMA at Mail Preference Service, P.O. Box 643, Carmel, N.Y. 10512-0643 to get off mailing lists. A $1 fee still applies to mail requests.

The other major source of unwanted mail, prescreened credit and insurance offers, can be addressed through an opt-out serv- ice maintained by the consumer credit reporting industry, mainly credit agencies. Families can get their names off lists through the Web site, or by calling the service's toll-free number, 888-567-8688.

Pat Kachura, senior vice president for corporate responsibility with the DMA, said families at any time can contact catalog issuers directly and ask to be removed from their mailing lists.

"But going to a single (Internet) site can be more convenient," she said.

Kachura said 4.5 million consumers are registered with the Mail Preference Service and that about 930 million mailings are suppressed each year as a result.

Families can get outside help in getting rid of catalogs, from services that collect a number of consumer requests and forward them to catalog mailers.

In October, the Ecology Center in Berkeley launched a Cata- log Choice site at Consumers indicate which catalogs they don't want to receive, and the service notifies the companies to stop mailings. The service is free.

"We're not anti-catalog, we're anti-waste," Executive Director Chuck Teller said.

The group, which funds projects focusing on sustainable production and consumption, said it has more than 555,000 participants who have opted out of more than 6.7 million catalogs.

"We know consumers can do it themselves, but they weren't," Teller said. "We have lots of things to do in our day, and this is one thing that wasn't getting done. At best, consumers were just dropping the unwanted catalogs in a recycle bin."

Another ecologically minded service is, based in Ferndale, Mich. It takes its name from the estimated weight of the junk mail each household receives each year. Households pay $41 for a five-year membership, and some of the profits are shared with environmental groups such as American Forests and

Sander DeVries said he and his brother started the program in July 2006 out of frustration in dealing with their junk mail.

"We started by sending out an e-mail to about 100 of our friends and relatives, suggesting how they could get off mailing lists," DeVries said. "But no one did it."

His group takes information from consumers and contacts catalog issuers -- as well as coupon issuers, nonprofit groups and other mail solicitors -- for them.

"We've actually had some people contact us with the names of 200 catalogs and mailings," DeVries said.

The site has about 10,000 subscribers, and donations last year totaled $85,000, he said.