Published 16 years, 7 months past

A while back, my office shredder froze up.  And I don’t mean whined and whirred feebly when I fed it something: I mean it was dead silent and completely inoperable.  I admit that it had gotten fairly heavy use, as I shred all the unsolicited credit card offers we receive on the grounds that it gives me a comforting illusion of protecting my financial identity.  Just go with me on that one, okay?

So I picked up a new shredder the other day and started getting busy with the catch-up.  It will come as no surprise that during the shredterregnum, a whoooole lotta envelopes piled up.  And since I opted to buy a medium-duty version instead of the $200 monster model, it became necessary to open each offer up and pull out the contents for shredding—just feeding the whole unopened envelope was too much for the blades to handle.  While I was at this tedious task, I put aside all the postage-paid return envelopes, since they didn’t really need to go into the maw.  I ended up with a stack of two or three dozen.

Well, now what?  I could take a page from Chris Anderson‘s playbook and lay down the “turnabout” card: since they sent me unsolicited mail, this is a perfect opportunity to send some unsolicited mail back to them.  On their dime, no less.  But is that really such a great idea?  There’s something about it that rubs me ever so slightly the wrong way, which is odd given my usual penchant for low-level creative anarchy.

So I’m at a bit of a loss.  Anyone have a better suggestion for what I should do?

Comments (40)

  1. What I’ve always wondered about those return envelopes is this: does the company sending those prepaid envelopes out have to pay the post office for the privilege of printing those ahead of time (thus meaning that the envelopes are effectively pre-paid, and thus it doesn’t matter whether they’re used or not), or does the sender pays the post office for the envelope after it’s used?

    If it’s the former situation, sending junk mail back is nothing more than a mild nuisance. If it’s the latter, it’s a slightly bigger deal because the company is out however much money said envelope costs. If it just happens occasionally, they’d accept it and move on. But if it happens too often, they’d probably sit up and take notice.

  2. Aw, do it! C’mon!
    Just make it entertaining for whoever has to open their mail, that’s all.

  3. While I can see both sides to this, I agree that not sending the envelopes back is probably the right thing to do. Karma and all that.

    If you want to keep up the chaos, there isn’t anything wrong with giving the envelopes to somebody else and letting them stir it up. :)

  4. How about nothing. Pick a battle worth the fight?

  5. Feed the return envelopes to the shredder. Personally I feed the fireplace with much of that stuff this time of year.

  6. You should definitely compose a creative and stupid letter, send it, and then sit smugly and think of all the poor sods who have had to waste a couple of minutes reading them.

  7. Personally I went through a phase of doing this after I got innundated with an incredible unsolicited mail.

    I understand the ‘icing on the cake’ of returning the contents of the mail to the sender in the prepaid envelope enclosed (minus any info related to yourself, of course) is that the original sender then has to foot the bill for the use of the envelope!

    But it was a short-lived phase as it gets boring very quickly, however satisfying at the time…

  8. No. That’s absolutely the right thing to do. The more stuff you can cram into the envelope, the better. Just be sure to black out any suspicious-looking bar codes or identification numbers.

  9. I have a friend that does this (mails all unsolicited postage-paid return envelopes he receives). He ensures that there is no identifying information on them first because he’s a bit paranoid. He simply fills the envelopes with blank pieces of paper, or sometimes the torn-out pages of catalogs that he didn’t order. He does this because he is retired and it amuses him, plus for the ten seconds it takes him to do this he feels like he’s sticking it to The Man. Which, I guess, he is in a very infinitesimally small way.

    Of course, as a method of stopping unsolicited mail it is worthless. If enough people did this to cause noticeable financial pain to the companies in question, it is doubtful that they would stop sending crap out. Rather, it would simply lead these firms to stop sending out postage-paid return envelopes, passing the costs on to people who want to order the products. But I suspect it is a long way from that.

  10. The return postage is already paid, so they’re down mumblety-mumble cents whatever you do. However, if you send them more weight than the rated minimum, they may be required to pay extra. I have some rolls of sheet lead in my shed (try saying that ten times) which would make lovely inserts, with a little snipping into shape. The only trouble is the hernia your postal workers would suffer trying to cart it all away from the local letter box.

  11. LOL @Eric TF Bat

  12. I always return the stuff back to them in their postage-paid return envelope with a note scribbled on ask them to remove me from their mailing list, or else simply “person unknown at this address”. I don’t add extra stuff to weigh it down further, because that seems a bit petty and I do try to stay polite. It has made a noticeable reduction to the amount of mail I get.

    If it is persistent and despite asking to be removed from mailing lists, the same company keeps sending stuff, then what you could do is start sending them invoices for your time spent opening the mail, reading it and then disposing of it. That’s been known to have the desired effect too!

  13. I have a dinky shredder as well, so I understand the process of opening each and every envelope to separate and shred the contents.

    My dad used to send the mail back to them, just because he despised receiving mail from them in the first place. While I understand the frustration – I choose to just put them through the shredder or directly in the trash.

    As thacker wrote, you have to pick the battles that are worth the fight.

  14. You could put some of the shredded paper in them and send it back to them. I have been wanting to send fortune cookie slips with my bills to just give the envelope openers a good laugh.

  15. Eric, you should send them back an offer to do some CSS work for them for . :-)

  16. Just to clear this up…A company pays up front for the design and print costs of the envelopes. They also pay a flat annual fee. They are charged postage however, only when someone puts the envelope in the mail. If these are companies you do business with, let them know you don’t want to receive this stuff anymore. If the junk is coming from just any random company, I say send it back and make ’em eat the postage cost.

  17. Opt out of prescreened credit card offers: 1-888-5-OPTOUT (1-888-567-8688). It helps.

  18. I am sometimes tempted to return pre-paid envelopes. However, it would just add a further load to the over-stretched postal system and possibly delay mail that people really want to receive.

  19. This service Catalog Choice looks good at helping remove you from catalog mailing lists as well. It’s free.

  20. Send them an offer for one of your books or software products. Make sure they realize that they already qualify.

  21. Send the envelopes to me and ill do it…

  22. I recommend that you write them friendly notes. “Hi! How’s your day going?” and all that jazz. Anarchy doesn’t have to be unfriendly.

  23. How about putting a mailing label over their address and using it to send letters to anyone you want for free, even pay bills & stuff.

  24. Send them a polite and straightforward bill. Tell them that you charge a processing fee (or fine) to receive and open their mail, and that they had better pay it.

    After all, I have been unexpectedly billed by companies for small things like this which I did not consent to. I always end up paying because I am afraid of what will happen to me if I don’t. Are they willing to face the consequences, or will they pay the small fee?

  25. I’ll go with Dave Vogt and extend that idea a little… sap the company’s postage resources, but attempt to totally baffle and delight the actual reciever. Send envelopes full of dried rose petals, XKCD comic strip printouts, pictures from Cute Overload, etc.

  26. Try opting out at OptOutPrescreen.com — it seems to work, at least for a while…

  27. Enclose an excuse in them and send them out one per day.

    I actually enjoy things like that.

  28. This is incredible. I have heard of people sending unsolicited mail back to sender, but I’ve never actually really thought about doing something like that myself. Now after reading all of those wonderful comments, I feel a bit mischievous (or shall I say inspired?!?). :)

  29. Opt out at the 1-800 number listed on the offer (I think it’s 1-800-OPT-OUT or something like that) works. You can do this online too.

  30. We shred all of ours as well. I created two stacks of form letters; one which says (summary), “I received unsolicited mail from you; I am registered on the do not mail list already, please stop sending”; and another which says “You have already been told to stop sending me mail, if you refuse to comply with my request I will be forced to take legal action”. I use a stack of the 1st letter for 1st and 2nd offenses, and the second letter for abusers.

    Packaging these letters takes only as much time as shredding, and makes a dramatic difference in the number of card ads I receive.

    I often rip off and save the address labels for the ones that don’t have postage-paid, so then I can print return envelopes in batches of 10 or more (since it’s too much work to print a single envelope at the time of shredding, but in batch the total time sink is small).

    It’s a never-ending battle though, and some places even ignore the “I’ll sue you” letters. I am sure I could sue and win, since I have meticulous records; but it’s not worth it.

  31. I have two unopened quarts of shredder oil. One from our first dearly departed machine and the other for the new. Hmm, 2 + 2…hey, you’re supposed to oil that thing!

  32. from bash.org (QDB):
    <wolf> 1. Save every Free Credit Card Offer you get, Put it in pile A
    <wolf> 2. Save every Free Coupon You get, put that in pile B
    <wolf> 3. Now open the credit card mail from pile A and find the Business Reply Mail Envelope.
    <wolf> 4. Take the coupons from pile B and stuff them in the envelope you hold in your hand.
    <wolf> 5. Drop the stuffed to the brim envelopes in your mail and walk away whistling.
    <wolf> I have now received two phone calls from the credit card companies telling me that they received a stuffed envelope with coupons rather then my application. They informed me that it they are not pleased that they footed the bill for the crap I sent them. I reply with “It says Business Reply Mail” I’m suggesting coupons to you to ensure that your business is more successful. They promptly hang up on me.
    <wolf> Now, I did this for about a month before it got boring, so I got an added idea! I added exactly 33 cents worth of pennies to the envelope so they paid EXTRA due to the weight. I got a call informing me about the money, I said it was a mistake and I demanded my change back. After yelling at the clerk and then to the supervisor they agreed to my demands and cut me a check for the money. I hold in my hand at this very moment a check from GTE Visa for exactly 33 cents.

  33. BIG LOL @ Dan Guy ^^^

  34. In the Netherlands, postage paid envelopes work with special addresses, like free phone numbers start with a special ‘area code’. Obviously you only pay for the letters sent to them, just like the phone company only charges for the calls that were made to the free number.

  35. I do exactly what Dan Guy does. I stuff as much as I possibly can into those envelopes and send them back. I can usually get all of the weekly sales circulars and credit card offers each week into the business reply envelopes I receive. I tend to remove my personal information, but getting a call is hilarious.

    I blogged about it a few years ago, including a photo of a typical envelope.

  36. As much as I enjoy the mischief, just recycle them. The payoff’s not worth it.

    Many municipal recycling progams will take both the inner and outer envelopes. Shred anything personal and recycle the rest.

  37. I say do a bit of cross-media promotion and mail them a printout of your spam.

  38. * Use them to send stuff into school with kids – money, forms, etc or to milkman or paperboy – anything needing an envelope but not anything special
    * Acquire some labels and re-use them (most offices have a drawer full of sheets of labels they can’t use)
    * Functional recycling is better than recycling them as paper

    I’m no fun, am I?

  39. There’s no bad karma if you sent nice “re-humanizing” notes (which could be subversive of the soul crushing corporate environment).

    You could actually be performing a valuable public service!

  40. You could mix them up. Send applications for VISA cards (still blank of course) to Mastercard & vice versa.

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