Solutions: How Amsterdam got rid of junk mail

A mailbox sticker created by the group Last Advertisement that reads “No Ads Please” in German. Photo courtesy of Last Advertisement

Credit: Last Advertisement

Combined ShapeCaption
A mailbox sticker created by the group Last Advertisement that reads “No Ads Please” in German. Photo courtesy of Last Advertisement

Credit: Last Advertisement

Skye Neville loves reading comic books, but the 11-year-old furrows her brows when she holds up her favorite to the Zoom camera from her village in Wales.

“Look!” she said. “This magazine came double wrapped in plastic, and this one had free plastic toys like this ugly red frog. To send out plastic junk in this time and age is inexcusable.”

Last winter, she decided to do something about it. She wrote a letter to the publisher of the comic book, Horrible Histories. “I laid out various options, for instance, covering the magazine in a layer made from potato starch.”

When the publisher tried to brush her off with the response that kids love free plastic toys, she started an online petition that garnered more than 65,000 signatures. Waitrose, one of the U.K.’s largest supermarket chains, stopped carrying the magazine as a result.

Even the Welsh parliament took up her request, and it is now considering a ban on plastic wrappings and gifts.

For Neville, the issue hits close to home: Her father is the local mailman in Fairbourne. Their house is only a short distance from the shore where she cleans up plastic trash almost daily. And Fairbourne is one of the first British villages that will be swamped by rising sea levels; scientists estimate that houses there will probably be underwater in 20 years.

So, the dangers of climate change are top of mind.

But her story highlights one essential question: Can consumers decide what ends up in their mailbox?

The answer depends on where you live.

Many European countries, as well as Canada and Australia, have introduced opt-out systems: A sticker on your mailbox signals to postal carriers that they are not allowed to deliver bulk mail.

In 2018, Amsterdam pioneered an opt-in system, and several other Dutch cities soon followed suit. Instead of opting out of each individual mailer as you have to in the United States, Holland reversed the system.

In order to receive junk mail, you need to put a sticker on your mailbox that declares that you want it.

Amsterdam’s early results are so impressive that other cities and countries want to follow its example.

France, for example, has already drafted legislation, and in Germany, the newly elected government responded favorably to a petition to introduce the Dutch opt-in model.

Michaela Haas writes for Reasons to Be Cheerful, a nonprofit editorial project that strives to be a tonic for these tumultuous times. This piece is republished through the Solutions Journalism Network.