My disdain for junk mail was birthed by a mild weekly nuisance: having the meaty stack of Pizza Hut and Circuit City ads supersaturating my mailbox to the point of suffocation.
Each unwelcome eyesore lay in a weighty pile in the corner of my kitchen - waiting to be recycled, and daring me to find a way to stop it.
The irritability caused by the weekly recycling chore bestowed upon me by advertisers (mainly the big ogre of an ad that is "ShopLocal") quickly birthed a vendetta after I spent three dubious minutes attempting to discontinue circulation to my apartment.
If your daily junk mail was a small spider in your shower, ShopLocal would be the giant flaming mother tarantula at the end of Arachnophobia that just won't die.
My interest in stopping a single solicitor was forced into aggression toward his entire ilk because of their reckless disregard for the environment - and further, their complete apathy toward my right to make it stop.
I originally started throwing rocks at the junk mail industry because junk mail is annoying, puts me at risk for identity theft (or at least it would if my credit was better ... good luck getting a Sears Platinum Card with thousands of dollars in college loans on my credit report) and takes up precious room on my patio - right next to last year's Christmas tree.
But the real battle is over the invaluable amount of resources that are drained every day for invasive advertising: The junk mail industry injects more carbon dioxide into the air than over 9 million passenger cars.
At least when the ice caps melt and we're all drowning, I'll be able to build a sexy raft out my Victoria's Secret catalogues.
The ShopLocal weekly junk mail advertisement is distributed by Gannett in approximately 939 cities across the nation. I saw an obese, all-consuming monster devouring the world's forests with weekly fat stacks of crap that no one reads and I decided that, for my part, something must be done.
The post office offers a slow, bureaucratic last resort if an attempt to contact an advertiser directly is unsuccessful. You can fill out U.S. Post Office Form 2150, "Prohibitory order against sender of pandering advertisement in the mails," if there are any specific brochures, catalogs or items that you do not want to receive, or do not want your kids to see. This was created for parents to stop the mailing of sexually provocative materials - i.e. Victoria's Secret catalogues. However, the interpretation of "erotically arousing" is up to the recipient, not the sender or the post office, and is not subject to review, so you can use the form to stop anything you want, regardless of content.
Who is the U.S. government to judge you if you get an erection from rent-to-own living room furniture? This information and the form are available at Junkbusters.com/dmlaws.html.
I, however, prefer a more direct approach.
But before I picked a fight with one of the world's largest media monsters, I wanted to make sure the law was on my side; that I could tell (not ask) them to leave me alone.
It turns out that in 1970, the Supreme Court promptly dismissed the pleas of direct advertisers who claimed it was unconstitutional for us to tell them not to send us huge piles of garbage that we don't want.
But my first visit to the ShopLocal Web site left me without direction; the only phone number that I found directed me to a rep at The Chicago Tribune, who recommended that I call The Indianapolis Star, which is responsible for the circulation of ShopLocal in Indianapolis. This sequence was a little odd, since the Tribune is not owned by the Gannett Corp. whereas the Star is - but never mind.
I searched the Star's Web site, trying to find the best department to contact, and none of them seemed promising, until ... Finance, HR, Publishing, Newsroom ... Desk of the President and Publisher, Michael G. Kane.
"Aha! Start at the top," I thought, and a friendly and cordial secretary promptly answered my call. She took my name and address and agreed to forward it on to a mysterious department (which she would not tell me the name of) and have me taken off the distribution list.
After 15-20 minutes of online research and phone calls, this publication (that I had never requested to begin with) was imperiously damned from my doorstep. Success, however ridiculous that it required any effort at all, was attainable. I wanted more.
Call it sandbag
A few days later, I received a weighty advertisement to sign up for AT&T U-Verse, a product that I already pay $100 for every month. I called customer service and was re-routed to several different, equally hapless, departments, before ultimately finding out 36 minutes later that the junk mail they send is not controlled by the company itself, but rather by a larger nationwide marketing agency that robotically distributes junk mail for vendors too numerous to filter out by a single company - let alone whether or not the recipient of the ad is in a market that qualifies for U-Verse, or already subscribes to it.
How the hell was I supposed to find a phone number for their national marketing agency? Well, it turns out, there are several national marketing agencies, each of which has its own unique, painstaking process to ... what's the word ... unsubscribe? No, that would imply some form of willing subscription to begin with. We'll call it "sandbag."
So in my quest to sandbag the flood of garbage, I would need a confederate.
A simple Google search for "stop junk mail" first brought me to a site that listed about 20 different marketing firms and provided mailing addresses and online links (for the few of them that have online removal options) for each vendor. I had decapitated just one of the hundred heads of this Hydra. It would take an entire afternoon(s) to write a generic letter, adjust headers and footers accordingly, and - with swollen, dry, paper-cut ridden fingers - limp to the post office and chuck them in the great blue barrel, exhausted and embittered.
Amid the many resources that junk mail methodically pickpockets from our planet, one of the most offensive is our time.
It takes less than a minute to filter through my mail for the things I need each day - health insurance cards, voter registration materials, paychecks, bank statements, etc. - but then there is also the bi-weekly trip to the recycling bin, which forces me, at great labor, to put on pants on a Saturday.
All inclusively, I realistically spend 25 minutes a week on junk mail. Seemingly, that isn't so much, but Animal Cops isn't going to watch itself on DVR, while I'm out wasting my time and energy, illegally shoveling stacks of glossy paper into a company recycling bin.
The ForestEthics group became an invaluable ally. Like Captain Planet (but without the racial stereotypes or green mullet), ForestEthics lobbies for the protection of resources, focusing obviously on trees and forests.
Their greatest adversary, like Captain Planet's arch-enemy "Captain Pollution," is junk mail. They cite that it wastes over 12 billion pounds of paper each year. Sure, this costs the world 100 million trees, but think of the extra carbon dioxide we get in return. Without junk mail, those gluttonous trees would be hoarding all of our precious carbon dioxide for themselves!
This year ForestEthics launched DoNotMail.org, finally creating a single source for us to mobilize our efforts against the big lumbering ogre of national junk mail pushers in a united front. It is the quickest, easiest (though still not terribly easy) and most effective weapon against mass mail.
The home page asks for your help in return, by simply signing an online petition to create a Do Not Mail list, à la the Do Not Call list made popular over the last few years. After signing (or not) the petition, you can then sit down, crack your knuckles, wet your ink pen, grab a coffee and get down to sandbagging.
After entering your name and address into a simple form, DoNotMail.org automatically generates the information into 18 separate forms, which you can then print off and mail to the vendors, complete with the necessary wording and addresses already printed on each letter. All you need is 18 envelopes and stamps, 15 minutes to mail them out and voila! Twenty minutes of work and six to eight weeks of thumb-twiddling later, the vast tide of your junk mail will be stemmed ... God willing. You will, of course, waste a small notebook's worth of paper doing this. Perhaps 18 singing telegrams would be more eco-friendly.
Next battle: the phone book
I have not looked something up in a phone book since 1996.
Even in the age of dial-up modems, the Internet was infinitely more effective for finding vendors, coupons and specials (all in one place) than the hulking booster-seat phone books that are occasionally plopped on my doorstep.
How is there still money in phone book advertising? Whom do they pay to lug those obese, glorified footrests around from door to door? Is Captain Pollution lurking in the shadows of the suburbs, waiting to covertly plant thousand-page piles of crap on America's porches? Maybe they stopped publishing new ones years ago, and no one has the heart to tell the yellow pages' delivery man that he's out of a job.
Either way, I had another fight to pick.
The phone book people are refreshingly agreeable and cooperative with requests from the public to discontinue delivery. Yellowpagesgoesgreen.org does all the work for you; just by entering your name and address into a simple form, your request is forwarded to all of the yellow and white pages vendors in your area, and another milestone has been reached. No more drunkenly tripping over Captain Pollution's booby traps for this young lad, no sir. Regrettably, lugging those things around accounted for about 65 percent of my bi-yearly workout routine.
There are recycling caches all over the city for old phone books. There are seven within a one-mile radius of where I live on the Southside, alone. PaperRetriever.com lists these with a quick and simple search by your home address. There are thousands of these sites in Marion County - you are as likely to trip over one of these as you are the phone book itself.
Chuckie-Cheese-esque obstacle course
By this time I was waging my campaign as a journalist. Wanting to make it as simple as possible for NUVO's readers to have a 1-2-3 guide to stopping junk mail, I redirected my attention to ShopLocal in order to give them an opportunity to set up a simple, one-call contact person for everyone within the sound of this article. As I previously griped, they are not as accommodating as the phone book industry.
I had already saved myself the nuisance of ShopLocal's weekly arrival - like taking a seasonal birth control pill, only way more complicated with a nasty headache side effect. But the larger battle was for the environment, and the only way to make a lasting impact would be to make it possible for a mass amount of people to quickly and efficiently discontinue ShopLocal's weekly imposition on their lives.
I called The Indianapolis Star main switchboard, this time as a self-identified journalist and representative of NUVO, explaining that I wanted to know where to refer anyone who wanted to sandbag ShopLocal from their home.
The dialogue was as follows:
"You can just have them call the main line, and anyone here can get it to stop."
"Oh, OK, so you mean the main switchboard line?"
"OK, that's what I called - so you can discontinue it for me?"
"Well, no, but I can transfer you to someone that can."
"OK, thank you."
After a couple minutes of holding, I was greeted by Dave, whom I explained my intentions to, for a second time. I asked what department he was in.
"Wait, so what do you want?" he asked, getting defensive.
"To be able to get it to stop."
"Just have them call the main line."
"You mean the main switchboard?"
"That's what I called and they transferred me to you."
"Then have them call circulation."
"OK, thank you. Can you transfer me over to them?"
"Sure, hold on," he said, and disconnected me.
I called back and asked to be transferred to circulation. After evading several subscription pitches, I explained myself for a third time and was told again to "just have them call the main line."
I explained the Chuckie-Cheese-esque obstacle course of hoops I'd already jumped through when calling the main line, and he transferred me to Diane.
I explained myself to Diane for a fourth time and she told me to have people call whoever had transferred me to her. I explained to her that I had no idea who that was, because I had been transferred by her to someone that had transferred me to him.
Eventually, my boyish charms earned me a direct phone number at the Indy Star, for anyone wanting to stop ShopLocal: 317-444-4517.
Eat it, Captain Pollution.
And yet my success was not altogether triumphant. According to DoNotMail.org, two acres of the Canadian Boreal Forest are logged each minute.
While I was on the phone with the Indy Star, over 50 acres of forests were cleared in the name of high-interest credit card offers and used car sales.
The third head of the ShopLocal monster is its assault on the concept of local business. A publication with the word "local" in its title consistently features a nationwide pizza chain on its cover, among a disjointed litter of similarly gigantic name brands.
The title would have me believe I was going to see a good-luck advertisement for Johnny to "break a leg" in IPS 432's rendition of Jack and the Beanstalk, or a coupon for The Bean Cup on County Line Road, instead of an obtrusive ad for a crummy acoustic guitar from Best Buy.
My weekly routine of carelessly chucking these ads into an increasingly monumental stack had never led me to consider the contents of ShopLocal. But now I considered the substance of my enemy - and it was like watching a car wreck or Fox News.
The top five advertisers in the Indy market for ShopLocal in October were, according to their Web site, Staples, Super Target, JC Penny, Walgreens and K-Mart. Perfectly good vendors they may be, but local they are not - with the exception of Marsh, which is featured as a title sponsor in the Indy edition.
Not only do they not actually encourage anyone to "shop local," they throw their flabby weight around 939 cities in America each week, plopping their fat ass squarely on the very notion of small business itself.
The junk mail industry may be a microcosm of the ways American capitalism's gone wrong. But in its obtrusiveness lies opportunity. When it trounces recklessly on our privacy and concern for quality of life, we can be there to tie its shoelaces together, and then sit back to laugh as it falls flat on its face. After my various successes sandbagging, I concluded that the only way to really win against direct mail spammers is a Do Not Mail registry.
This is not a hopeless prospect; we have a real, attainable goal - the enemy has a name and we can win. The "go-green" phenomenon in 2008 has been an encouraging step in the right direction, but changes in carbon emissions and fuel efficiency are not yet tangible today, in front of our faces.
A Do Not Mail registry would be a real, significant and visible impact on the environment that we can all start enjoying the day it happens - and all of our lives will be a little less cluttered.
Today it takes a little time and effort to save yourself the daily task of discarding junk mail for the rest of your life. Or at least the rest of your stay at your current address. Or until you get married and your name changes and you get put back on the mailing lists, or ... ah, screw it. Just fill their postage paid envelopes with leftover hummus and mail them back.
Editors note: NUVO is printed on 100 percent recycled newsprint.
* There are 100 billion pieces of junk mail delivered in the U.S. each year; 30 percent of the entire world's mail.
* The average American receives 848 pieces of junk mail a year.
* We ultimately will spend eight months of our lives dealing with junk mail, on average.
* Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent collecting and disposing of un-recycled junk mail each year.
* The post office is increasingly being forced to divert resources to the dispersal of junk mail; 44 percent of it goes unopened.
How to cut your junk mail down by 95 percent in 30 minutes
1. Call The Indianapolis Star at 317-444-4517 to stop the weekly ShopLocal advertisement.
2. Go to DoNotMail.org and sign the Do Not Mail registry petition. Then use the junk mail opt-out tool. It will ask you for your name and address, and all of this information is then automatically input into 18 separate pre-written and addressed letters, which you can simply print off and then mail. This will stop a vast majority of crap from clogging your mailbox. A brand-spanking new septic system, if you will.
3. Submit your name and address on Yellowpagesgoesgreen.org and be automatically removed from every local phone book vendor's hit list.
4. Go to Catalogchoice.org. After setting up a simple account and using their database to find the catalogues you've been receiving, they will contact them on your behalf to discontinue them.
5. Recycle all those hulking Christmas-time ads (and everything else, for that matter) at any one of the thousands of free public recycling depots in Marion County, handily listed on Paperretriver.com. You will have a hard time spitting in any direction without hitting one of these; there is probably one at your grocery store, kid's school, your work ... everywhere.
6. Fill out and mail U.S. Post Office Form 2150, "Prohibitory order against sender of pandering advertisement in the mails," if there are any specific brochures, catalogs, or items that you do not want to receive, or do not want your kids to see.
7. Stop the coupons
Val-Pak: Just enter your address at: www.coxtarget.com/mailsuppression/s/DisplayMailSuppressionForm.(Note: This is a cap sensitive Web address.)
Money Mailer: There are many ways to get rid of this coupon book.
Mail: 12131 Western Ave.
Garden Grove, CA 92841
Valassis: Either call 1-888-241-6760 or www.advo.com/consumersupport.html.
Allow five to six weeks; will suspend it for five years.
RSVP Indianapolis: 317-844-7787
8. It is not the right of any company or person to keep sending you mail that you do not want. Contact any mailers that continue to leak their garbage through to your mailbox and ask them to stop. Most of them will be agreeable to your request. Otherwise, you can use the pre-paid postage envelopes they send you to stuff with anything you want (minus dead animals, bombs, etc., don't be an idiot) and mail it back to them. Urban legend contends that you can attach these envelopes to a box of any size and mail them old tires, bricks, roof shingles, a screenplay ... the most expensive parcel you can find.