(Royal) Junk Mail

I just flicked the TV on before going to work and caught a story on BBC1's "Breakfast" news show highlighting the fact that we will all be getting more junk mail in the UK.

Apparently Royal Mail's management have agreed to pay conditions with the postal workers' union just so long as Britain's postmen start shoving more junk through our letter boxes.

The deal is said to be quite lucrative for Royal Mail and for the union, which had previously agreed that postal workers should only deliver three items of junk to an address per week, this is quite a compromise.

On the BBC Breakfast show the presenters questioned two guests; one a proponent of "direct marketing" and the other a representative of the group Waste Watch. (Sorry I don't have any more detail, I missed the names and the introductions)

What we saw was a scruffy talk about junk mail with a lack of clarity on exactly which form of junk mail was being discussed with the direct marketing representative spearheading a charm offensive on behalf of junk mail.

Junk mail, by my definition, is any brochure or advertising that comes through my door unsolicited. What Royal Mail seem to be advocating, and making money from, is "unaddressed mail". This "unaddressed mail" includes those envelopes addressed to "the owner" or "the occupier".

With those two terms, junk mail and "unaddressed mail" cleared up nicely the people on the sofas then proceeded to discuss the generic term "junk mail" which allowed the direct marketing guy to positively present his figures. I suspect he was talking about "unaddressed mail" but was allowed, pretty much unchecked, to spin the facts as applying to junk mail/direct marketing in general and not purely "unaddressed mail".
"Mr. Direct Mmarketing" said that 80% of direct marketing was opened and read by recipients. He also added that direct marketing is not a waste of time because the process generates around £130 billion of business a year. In addition he said that less than 2% of household waste is direct marketing/junk mail. He also repeated the soundbite, a couple of times, that the perception that "junk mail is bad" is "a complete myth".

In response the representative of Waste Watch said that only 1% of junk mail was acted upon.

The direct marketing guy relished the opportunity to market his industry virtually unopposed and massaged the figures to his own advantage. £130 billion is a lot of business but how much of that business is won by direct marketing via "unaddressed mail"? How much is won by door-to-door direct marketing? How much business and revenue is generated by junk flyers?

I was a little surprised at the smug fact that less than 2% of household waste is junk mail/direct marketing. Was this by weight or by item? I decided to have a quick look in my recycling box that sits in the kitchen. OK, the food waste goes into a bucket and onto the compost so I didn't count that.

Granted, there was more general recyclable material by weight and bulk, especially considering there are steel cans, aluminium beer cans, cardboard boxes, cardboard tubes etc but the item count?

  • Junk mail - 20
  • Recycling - 30

That's probably about a week or two's worth of recycling on show and the junk mail is all direct marketing and no "unaddressed mail".

So, in terms of "unaddressed mail" my own personal figure tallies up with the marketing guy - less than 2% of my household waste is "unaddressed mail", infact, this week, it's 0%, but hardly a fair representative figure.

In terms of weight of junk mail, again, it's probably very light and may well be about 2% of my recycling.

But as a proportion of my waste it's 40%.

Hold on - there's a BIG flaw in my manipulation of the figures here - it's only a week or so's worth of rubbish AND it's only my recycling.

Yes, I have only thrown away ONE item of rubbish this last week - a pasta packet, that's it.

So, back to the BBC breakfast story; who is right and who is wrong? Who lost and who won?

Well, the direct marketing guy probably won the charm offensive, he marketed his own corner really well and was given free reign to use some great figures and say twice, "it's a myth" that junk mail is bad. And yes, my own example of rubbish is from a green guy who wastes very little anyway - of course "the average household" may well waste SO MUCH MORE and the junk will be an even tinier percentage of their household waste.

But as time goes on and we become less wasteful, the guy from Waste Watch is right. If only 1% of the junk mail message gets through then 99% of the paper, print, energy and manpower is wasted on going straight back into the bin/recycling. It may make the commercial world go around but 99% waste is not sustainable from an environmental perspective.

So, if you guys & girls out there have any figures to demonstrate the direct marketing claims one way or another then please feel free to let us know :)

Personally I think it's a big shame that Royal Mail are keen to promote more waste for the sake of money. Read the Royal Mail door-to-door opt-out page. It's almost laughable that they're trying to get you to reconsider before you even send your details in;

Opting out means no one at the address will receive unaddressed mail items - is this acceptable to everyone living at the property?

Yes. The cat doesn't need double glazing or a conservatory or a kebab or a pizza or a valuation on the property or timeshare or a haircut...


Interesting article! We don't bother with direct-marketing campaigns as they are expensive and, as you say, wasteful. Staying in touch with customers via email & the internet is far better in my opinion and a lot less harmful to the environment

For your figs I reckon my house receives around 5-10 items of junk mail / unaddressed mail per week, maybe more, and we have a 'no flyers' notice on our door!