According to research released by Royal Mail today, 7 in 10 consumers used a free sample that they received through the door and 37.6 per cent redeemed a money-off voucher or coupon.

This equates to more than 31.1 million free samples or money-off vouchers mailed by stores and brands in 2006 that were welcomed and used by consumers.

But as 550,000 tonnes of paper, equivalent to 3.3 million mature trees, are used for junk mail each year – this means that more than 1/10th of a tree was used for each ‘offer’ that is actually taken up.

Junk, or ‘direct’ mail, makes up 4% of all paper waste in the UK. Newspapers account for 20% of all paper used.

The difference is that those who are trying to reduce their paper use can choose not to buy newspapers, and the glossy nature of a lot of junk mail makes me think it’s not as reliant on recycled content as newspapers are (average 41.2% recycled paper) but I’d be happy to hear I’m wrong on this!

You can opt out of addressed direct mail through the mail preference service, and opt out of unaddressed mail by sending your name and address to

Comments (4)

  1. Tony

    There’s a real problem with this argument, in that it does not take account of a variety of factors. One is that in a capitalist society there has to be advertising in order to make the buyer aware of choice. (Obviously they don’t have consumer advertising in North Korea because there is no choice). So the issue is which of the various forms of advertising is the most environmentally friendly.

    If you take all the environmental cost of producing a newspaper, or a TV ad then you find that the amount of energy used in producing direct mail is far less than any other form of advertising other than radio, per thousand people reached.

    Second, the EU has been self-sufficient in trees for paper production for over 25 years, and so the appeal to the number of trees cut down is emotional rather than factual.

    Third anyone who wants to can stop 95% of their direct mail arriving at home by registering just once with MPS – it is free. At work it is more complex but can be done.

    Fourth there are knock on effects of direct mail. If advertiisng by post were stopped then the price of a normal stamp to post a letter to a friend would be about £1.50 – personal letters lose Royal Mail money – they only make money through the junk mail advertising.

    Fifth, if we stopped junk mail we would not only ruin Royal Mail but also throw a huge industry out of work – from agricultre to copywriters the number of workers out of work would then be enormous. Maybe that’s ok, but it would be a good idea to know what the plan is for finding them new work.

  2. Liz

    Tony – I understand the issue for Royal Mail but, as you say, in a capitalist society the buyer needs to be aware of their choices. The more people hear about the resources used for this type of mail, the more they learn about their choice to use the MPS.

    Additionally, the joy of capitalism is that the market would find a more efficient way to meet the demands of buyers and sellers if the costs for sending this mail rose (for example through green taxes on mailers or perhaps a growing demand for wood and agricultural land in the post-fossil fuel economy). Such market-driven initiatives would surely save or create new jobs.

    Thanks for your input – you appear v knowledgeable on the topic. Do you know the proportion of direct mail that is made of recycled paper? You’ll have seen that I found a figure for the content in newspapers.

  3. Rob

    I think something should be done about solicited mail that turns up for years at an address for previous occupiers. We live in one of 3 flats in a converted house and we probably fill a recylcling bin per month with mail sent to previous residents. I know those people should contact organisations when they move, or redirect their mail and then inform these organisations when redirected mail turns up, but lets be honest, how many of us do this, or even know how many organisations have us on their mailing lists? Surely there is a more intelligent approach to this? Perhaps a need to positively request to continue to receive mail from an organisation once a year?

  4. astrotomato

    Tony, you mention that the EU is self-sufficient in trees for paper production, and that this negates any concern for the environment.

    From an holistic viewpoint, being able to produce the amount of trees doesn’t negate the environmental impact.

    We still have the incredible amount of energy used in forestry management, much of it using chainsaws on site, and heavy plant, all producing particulates and inefficient. Then there’s the costs of felling, manufacture, transport, pulping, bleaching, and so on. This doesn’t even look at the habitats management and biodiversity issues.

    Considering all of these issues, I think we have less of an emotional reason to look at junk mail, and more a rational view – is it a wise use of resources?

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