WASHINGTON -- Customers might complain about the flood of unsolicited credit card applications, supermarket fliers and shopping catalogs in their mail, but the Postal Service is hoping to deliver even more.
Faced with multibillion-dollar losses and significant declines in first-class mail, the post office is cutting deals with businesses and direct mail marketers to increase the number of sales pitches they send by standard mail, the official term the agency uses for what is less kindly referred to as "junk mail."
"Standard mail is the best way to reach your customer," Patrick R. Donahoe, the postmaster general, said during a presentation last month on the future of the post office. "You can advertise on Facebook, but I don't see how you can trace the number of 'likes' to return on investment."
But as the Postal Service embraces direct mail to shore up its faltering bottom line, it faces opposition. Cities struggling to pay recycling and landfill coststo dispose of billions of pieces of unwanted mail are objecting to the expense. Localities estimate that they spend about $1 billion a year to collect and dispose of it.
Some cities have teamed with a software developer that has come up with an online registry to help cities and residents block delivery of the types of mail they do not want.
In the past five years, more than 100 localities including the cities of Chicago
Several communities like Brookline, Mass., a Boston suburb, have partnered with Catalog Choice, a startup in Berkeley, Calif., to offer customers a way of opting out of the junk mail. Customers sign up for the service through a city website run by the company. Catalog Choice contacts the mailers and asks them to remove customer names from their mailing lists. Since the program began in August 2011, Ed Gilbert, solid waste manager at the town's public works department, said about 10 percent of the city's 25,000 households had signed up for the service.
"One of the biggest complaints that we get in Brookline from customers is about the amount of junk mail clogging up their mailboxes," Gilbert said.
Gilbert said the service had reduced the amount of catalogs and other items that the city has to haul away for recycling.
In Austin, Texas, which began using Catalog Choice in April, the city estimates thatit has shed millions of pounds of waste and saved thousands of dollars in disposal costs by giving residents a way to remove their names from marketers' mailing lists.
"By empowering Austin residents to opt out of unwanted mail and phone books, the city is saving costs while making strides in diverting waste from the landfills," saidBob Gedert, director of the city's resource recovery division.
Chuck Teller, aformer PeopleSoft executive who founded Catalog Choice in 2007, said dozens of other cities had also called about the service.
"We have hit a point in our mailbox where the signal-to-noise ratio is out of whack," Teller said. "It's like watching an hour of TV, and there's 58 minutes of commercials and two minutes of programming."
Teller said his company had processed 26 million stop requests since the company began. He expects the number to increase as the Postal Service moves forward with its plans to increase the volume of direct mail.
Dozens of state lawmakers have taken up the anti-junk-mail cause. Bills have been introduced that would create Do Not Mail registries modeled after the popular Do Not Call list. But the legislation has been opposed by the Direct Marketing Association, an industry trade group, which says direct mail accounts for nearly $700 billion a year in sales and employs more than 10 million people.
So far, none of the bills have passed.