Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Prepaid Envelopes

While we were having our coffee this morning, and opening the mail, an idea came up: Can we use the prepaid envelopes that came with the junk mail to send letters to friends and family for free? The idea struck me as so obvious, that if it did work, there must be a flood of information on the web about it. Well, there isn't.

After looking around for a few minutes I found that "prepaid" envelopes are not all really prepaid. They are sort of "prepaid-in-waiting". The company that sent out the envelope is only charged for the postage if the envelope is used and scanned going back through the system. That's what all those little bars are for.

So, why not use them for your own mail by just putting on an address label over the address printed on the envelope? Well, apparently many of these envelopes are coded to a specific postal code, and if it is sent to some other postal code, the recipient could be on the hook for the postage. Makes sense.

Junk mail seems to really get people wound up. I found there are a lot of people out there who like to send these envelopes back filled with other junk mail they have received. They will send the Pizza Hut flier to the credit card company, the muffler shop offer to the magazine subscription department and so on. The reasoning being that the company who sent the envelope has to pay to get your junk back, which adds to their own recycling costs and wastes their time. Some people even claim they have attached the envelopes to larger packages with several pounds of junk (even bricks and bottles of water!), costing the company even more money. Do people really do things like that? Seems like a lot of trouble to me.

I'm not so sure sending anything back is such a great idea. As I understand it, a lot of junk mail is handled by third party companies who just deal with bulk mail outs. Might they not count any return as a hit? After all they want to have high hit rates to demonstrate how well their service works. Might that not trigger even more junk mail? At least they know you actually opened it.

The people who were advocating sending junk back were not saying that they didn't get junk mail anymore, in fact they all complained about getting more and more. So while loading up a credit card company's envelope with their own shredded junk mail may feel satisfying in the moment, I very much doubt it would be much of deterrent, even if it does get back to the offices of the company in question. And shipping your junk mail around through Canada Post is not really doing anything to help reduce waste or lower carbon emission.

No, it's not as exciting as sweet revenge, but perhaps a better alternative is to visit the Canada Post web site, where you can participate in the Canada Post "Consumer Choice Program", which is supposed to stop delivery of unaddressed ad mail to your home.

Here's a quote from the web site:
Through the Consumer Choice Program, you may opt out of receiving Unaddressed AdmailTM delivered by Canada Post. However, choosing this option may also discontinue your delivery of municipal notices and mailings, such as municipal calendars. It is important to note that this option does not discontinue the delivery of unaddressed advertising by parties other than Canada Post.

Not perfect, I guess. But it's a start.

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