DUH calls for opt-in system to end junk mail overload

DUH calls for opt-in system to end junk mail overload

Environmental Action Germany (DUH) has renewed calls for free newspapers and advertising leaflets to be made “opt-in” rather than “opt-out”, following the results of a survey that found that hardly any German companies are willing to stop sending unaddressed - and often unwanted - advertising brochures. 

DUH calls for advertising mail to be made opt-in

Last year, DUH launched a campaign for a rule change to make advertising mail opt-in only, to combat the “flood of advertising trash” people in Germany receive in the post. DUH estimates that around 28 billion unsolicited advertising brochures are pushed through people’s letterboxes each year - the equivalent of one per person each day of the year.

Apart from being an annoyance, DUH has argued that all of this junk advertising bears an enormous environmental cost, using around 42 billion litres of water, 4,3 billion kilowatt-hours of energy and 1,6 million tons of wood each year.

DUH pointed to the example of the Dutch city of Amsterdam, which in 2018 introduced an opt-in system to reduce unnecessary advertising waste. According to the local municipality, the scheme saves around 6.000 tons of paper per year. 

Germany says individual companies can decide, but few show willingness

In Germany, however, the government demurred on taking legislative action and said it should be up to individual retailers to change their marketing strategies. The Justice Ministry said that legal obstacles such as the constitutionally secured freedom of advertising could get in the way.

Six months on, the DUH conducted a survey that they say shows “the majority of German trading companies do not want to stop the enormous waste of resources and energy caused by unwanted advertising brochures.” Once again, they are now calling on the government to step in.

DUH contacted 37 large German retailers and asked if they were considering dropping their printed advertising materials. Giants like Aldi Süd, Rewe and Rossman showed no inclination to change their ways: seven justified the use by saying that their brochures were printed on recycled material, while 26 other retailers simply did not respond. 

Junk mail wastes energy and resources, DUH argues

“Saving energy and resources has never been more important than now,” said DUH Federal Managing Director Barbara Metz. “We cannot afford to produce billions of printed advertising brochures that then end up in the bin unread. As our survey has shown, the majority of retailers are not ready for major changes. That is why Environment Minister [Steffi] Lemke has to take countermeasures with an opt-in regulation.”

Under an opt-in system, DUH argued, everyone who wants to receive advertising mail can continue to do so, while the people who don’t want it will get nothing. DUH added that further resources could be saved by international companies switching to online advertising via mailing lists and digital brochures. This is a strategy recently adopted by the Swedish furniture company Ikea, as well as retailers like Kik and Woolworth in Germany.

In response to a query from the dpa, the Federal Justice Ministry said “a legislative initiative for a corresponding legislation had not been planned” on this issue. 



Abi Carter

Abi studied History & German at the University of Manchester. She has since worked as a writer, editor and content marketeer, but still has a soft spot for museums, castles...

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