Refuse Your Mail

Questions & Answers

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 mail 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 figure out how to get rid of it. If it was sent at the Marketing Mail rate (also known as the Standard Mail rate), 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.
  • If it was sent as Marketing Mail (or Standard Mail) without any of those endorsements, then the mailpiece will just 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 have a pen or marker with me anyway when I check my mail, and my mailbox isn’t near my recycle bin. Just going through the mail, marking “Refused” on the junk, and putting it back in the mailbox is the easiest approach for me. If you’re going to flip through the mail you get for the day anyway, it’s not really that much harder to write “Refused” on the mail that you don’t want. Also, when I first started this site, recycling wasn’t readily available to houses in my area, but I hoped the Post Office had recycling facilities.
So, why?
If I didn’t ask for the mailpiece, and don’t want it, why should I be the one responsible for getting rid of it? I figure we should let the people who sent it to you, or brought it to you, be responsible for it instead.
No, seriously, why? Why set up this whole 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 unwanted Marketing mail. Companies right now have no incentive to make sure that the addresses that they’re sending to actually want their mail. I’m hoping that eventually the Post Office either charges them more for refused 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 I should pay for disposing of mail I didn’t ask for, or even why our postal system should be serving as a garbage disposal for unwanted mail. 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 didn’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 sending bulk mail and dealing with undeliverable and unwanted (refused) mail, so that companies don’t just add every address they can find to their mailing lists.
How do I stop companies from sending mail to me in the first place?
Obviously the best solution to unwanted mail is to avoid it in the first place, and I’ve done a lot of work in getting off of companies’ mailing lists. The best approaches I’ve found are:
  • Contact every company that sends you mail but that you don’t want marketing mail from, and tell them to take you off of their mailing lists. There’s often information buried in the privacy policy at their web site, but sometimes the easiest approach is to just call them up.
  • You can use the Direct Marketing Association Mail Preference Service. A lot of companies are members and use their opt-out system. Unfortunately, they charge a small fee for being added to their opt-out list, and don’t even keep you on the opt-out list forever, which makes the whole thing feel a bit like extortion.
  • If you want to avoid receiving credit card offers, the credit reporting companies have set up which marks your credit file for companies to not mail you offers of credit. This works really well for that type of mail, though you need to mail them a form (and not just complete it online) if you want it to be effective indefinitely instead of just for five years.
However, even with a lot of work, it’s almost impossible to stop the mailing of certain “saturation mail” (which is just addressed to “Postal Customer” without listing your address) that goes to every household in an area. So you’re going to be stuck refusing some mail regardless.
Should I refuse 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, you can always refuse it and drop it in a blue collection box or at the Post Office. This is also why I’d recommend using that service to avoid getting credit card offers in the mail in the first place.
What if I get my refused mail back?
This does happen sometimes, and might be really frequent for you depending on where you live. 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 closely enough to notice that it’s refused). Mail carriers are so rushed they probably won’t notice the refused mail in the stack they put in your mailbox. If this happens to you, mark through the barcodes and maybe put an X through the destination address with a dark (preferably black) 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.