What does the Post Office do with refused mail?
That depends on the class of mail and what the sender wrote on it. Part of the service one buys when buying postage is the handling of undeliverable mail, such as mail with an incorrect address or that is refused.
  • If it was sent First Class, or if it has an endorsement on it like "Return Service Requested" or "Address Service Requested", then it will get sent back to the sender, and the sender will need to pay to get rid of it. If it was sent Standard (instead of First Class), the Post Office will also charge the sender extra for the return. While this may be the most satisfying outcome, it's the rarest.
  • If it has an endorsement on it of "Change Service Requested", then the post office will get rid of it, but it will notify the sender of the reason for non-delivery, and charge them extra for sending the notification. Again, this is fairly rare.
  • It was sent Standard Mail without any of those endorsements, then the mailpiece will be disposed of by the Post Office. Hopefully, they'll recycle it. This is the most common in my experience.
Isn't it easier to just throw out the junk mail or recycle it?
It might be, for some people. I tend to just bring a pen or marker with me when I check the mail, and quickly just mark "Refused" on the junk and put it back in the mailbox. You're going to flip through the mail you get for the day anyway, and it's not really that much harder to just write "Refused" on the mail that you don't want. It sure seems easier to me than dealing with all the trash that I'd need to throw out otherwise.
So, why?
If I didn't ask for mail, and don't want it, why should I be the one responsible for getting rid of it? Let the people who sent it to you, or brought it to you, be responsible instead. Also, we don't have recycling available in my area, so I'm hoping that the Post office might recycle it.
No, seriously, why? Why set up this web site all about refusing mail of all things?
I'm hoping that if enough people get involved, it might motivate the Post Office to change some of its policies, particularly around the handling of undeliverable Standard mail. Any mail that's undeliverable as addressed (UAA) gets handled the same as if you refuse it, and companies right now have no incentive to make sure that the addresses that they're sending to are correct and want their mail, since the Post Office just gets rid of the undeliverable mail for them. I'm hoping that eventually the Post Office either charges them more for undeliverable mail and/or sends the mail back to them to let them deal with the cost of throwing it out. I don't see why our postal system should be serving as a garbage disposal for these people. But even if nothing changes, I figured that this site would at least be a good resource for people like me who just don't want to accept junk mail into their house and don't want to pay for getting rid of it.
If everybody does this, won't the Post Office need to raise rates?
I sure hope so. I only want people to send me mail if it's actually important to me that I get it, and one way of doing that is to raise rates so that people think twice before mail-bombing entire cities with their bulk mail. Really, the rates I want raised are the rates for dealing with undeliverable and unwanted (refused) mail, so that companies don't just add every address they can find to their mailing lists.
What about mail with sensitive information, like credit card applications?
I figure that refusing it and putting it back into the mailstream is at least as secure as it getting to me in the mail in the first place. I certainly don't see why somebody else deciding to print my personal information somewhere obligates me to find and pay for a secure method of disposing of it. If you're uncomfortable refusing it and leaving it back in your mailbox, refuse it and drop it in a blue collection box or at the Post Office. Also, I signed up at optoutprescreen.com to opt out of most prescreened credit card offers, which reduces the chance of the mail coming in the first place.
How do I stop companies from sending mail to me in the first place?
I'd suggest checking out the excellent site at Junkbusters for information on contacting companies you do business with and trying to opt out of the major mailing lists. This is certainly a fine idea, since if you don't want to get it, it's certainly much less wasteful for them to just not send it to you. However, this can be a laborious process, since you need to contact each company individually to really be effective, and even then you can't stop the mailing of certain "saturation mail" (just addressed to "Postal Customer" without an address) that goes to every address in an area. I tend to try to do it for the worst offenders, but it's much more work than just refusing the mail when it comes. Feel free to go this route if refusing it just isn't enough for you.
What if I get my refused mail back?
I've heard of this happening sometimes. Essentially, sometimes the mail sorting equipment and process is so efficient that it just looks at the barcodes on the mail and routes it right back to its original destination again, without a person looking at it (or at least looking at it close enough to notice that it's refused). If this happens, just put it back in the mailstream. If you keep on having trouble, mark through the barcodes and destination address with a marker so that the automated equipment can't read it to send it back to you. You don't need to obliterate the address; you just need to put some dark marks through it so that it won't be read automatically. Using a black marker to mark through the barcodes is probably best.