A Straight Dope Classic from Cecil's Storehouse of Human Knowledge

Can I mail a brick back to a junk-mail firm using the business reply envelope?

August 10, 1984

Dear Cecil:

I read a lot of my "junk mail" with interest, so I'm not trying to end it all. But there are some junk mailers that really annoy me enough to make me want to make them pay, and pay, and pay. What's the best way to do this? The easy way, of course, is to send back their reply envelope ("no postage necessary if mailed in the United States") with no signature, address, etc., which makes them pay the business reply postage. But I keep wishing there was a better way. What if I stuff all the junk material that came with the mailing into the reply envelope, so that it weighs more than will go for the standard 20-cent rate? What if I enclose a sheet of scrap iron, or paste the envelope cover onto a brick? Surely there must be a legal method to make some of these villains think twice before they buy just any mailing list.

Cecil replies:

Obviously, Winfield, you're a person consumed with cunning and wickedness. In short, you're my kinda guy. Unfortunately, your bricks-for-business scheme, admirable though it is in theory, won't work in practice. According to rule 917.243(b) in the Domestic Mail Manual, when a business reply card is "improperly used as a label" — e.g., when it's affixed to a brick — the item so labeled may be treated as "waste." That means the post office can toss it in the trash without further ado.

Once upon a time things were different. Years ago, they tell me, postal regulations required that all business reply mail be delivered, whether the cards were affixed to bricks, 2x4s, or hand grenades. Furthermore, the recipient was required to pay full first-class postage (a good buck, in the case of a brick) plus 18 cents handling per piece. However, the direct-mail firms usually worked out a deal with the local postmaster whereby unwanted building materials and whatnot (believe it or not, Win, you're not the first person to think of this) somehow became "lost" (heh-heh), getting the mailing firm off the hook.

The current regulation makes it unnecessary to resort to this subterfuge. But most people don't realize the mailing firms won't get stuck with the tab, so a fair amount of oddball junk still finds its way into the nation's mailboxes. The postal service regards this as a pain in the neck, and therefore I've been implored to convey to the Teeming Millions the following message: putting bricks in the mail could bring American civilization to its knees. (That's the impression I came away with, anyway.) Also you might be charged with "abuse of the mails."

The postal service suggests the following course of action instead: write the offending mailer and respectfully request that the SOB take you off his mailing list. If that doesn't work, write to the Mail Preference Service of the Direct Marketing Association, 6 East 43rd St., New York NY 10017, and tell them you don't want to get any more unsolicited (i.e., junk) mail. Every three months the DMA makes up a computer tape they send around to the major mailing-list companies listing the people who want their names deleted. The drawbacks here are that you can't be selective, you can't do anything about local small-time operators, and if you ever subscribe to another magazine in your life (or, for that matter, buy anything through the mail), your name goes back into circulation.

Incidentally, Win, of the 161,000 people who wrote to the DMA last year, 116,000 wanted more junk mail. They were sent a booklet entitled "How To Get More Interesting Mail" (as God is my witness, I'm not making this up), which tells you various catalogs you can send for to guarantee you'll be deluged with stuff. Just in case you have a change of heart.

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A Straight Dope Classic by Cecil Adams
A Straight Dope Classic by Cecil Adams
A Straight Dope Classic by Cecil Adams
A Straight Dope Classic by Cecil Adams
A Straight Dope Classic by Cecil Adams
A Straight Dope Classic by Cecil Adams
A Straight Dope Classic by Cecil Adams
A Straight Dope Classic by Cecil Adams
A Straight Dope Classic by Cecil Adams
A Straight Dope Classic by Cecil Adams
A Straight Dope Classic by Cecil Adams
A Straight Dope Classic by Cecil Adams

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