If you're like most Americans, returning from vacation means facing a

mountain of junk mail that accumulated in your absence. And if your junk

mail is like most junk mail, 44 percent of it will end up in the trash

without being opened or read.

The average American spends eight months of his or her life dealing with

unwanted mail solicitations. And junk mail wastes paper as well as time,

since an average of 100 million trees are ground up each year to stuff

our mailboxes. But here's the good news: a few minutes of junk mail

prevention can eliminate hours of junk mail frustration, and save trees

at the same time.

Junk mail is the mail you don't want n a fat catalog of accessories for

a sport you don't play, frequent flyer deals with lots of suspicious

fine print, or endless offers for credit cards you don't need. With a

few simple steps, it's possible to eliminate these annoyances from your

box and only receive mailings from the businesses and organizations that

interest you. A useful guide called the WoodWise Consumer, published by

Co-op America, offers plenty of hints and strategies for creating a

junk-free mailbox. Here are a few tips:

Write to the Mail Preference Service (Direct Marketing Association, P.O.

Box 9008, Farmingdale, NY 1735-9008) and ask them to remove your name

from the main consumer mailing lists sold to businesses.

To stop getting most credit card mailings, call (888) 567-8688. This

will tell the three major credit bureaus that you don't want them to

rent or exchange your name.

Whenever you fill out a form or place an order, always write, "Do not

rent or exchange my name," or ask the order taker to "flag your file"

so that your information won't be shared.

Don't fill out product warranty cards. A warranty is valid whether or

not you return a card, and sending one in will put you on more mailing

lists. Also avoid contests n another mechanism for compiling mailing

lists.

These tips should reduce your junk mail by about 75 to 80 percent. But

then what to do with the pieces that still get through? "I have zero junk mail

now," says Rafael Salomon, a systems administrator from College Park,

Md., "and it's because I responded to all the unwanted mail I used to

receive and told the senders I didn't want their materials." You can use

prepaid reply envelopes to send back a "please remove my name from your

list" note, or call customer service 800-numbers to tell them you don't

want future mailings.

Some mail-savvy individuals make up special stickers to streamline the

process of responding to junk. "I spent a rainy weekend afternoon

printing out labels that say "Refused n Return to Sender (Remove Name

from Mailing List, and Put on Nixie List)" to let companies know I don't

want to get their mailings," said Alisa Gravitz, executive director of

Co-op America. "And for mail addressed to my house's previous occupant,

I made ones that say "Moved n no longer at this address." I just stick

the appropriate label over the barcode on each unwanted piece of mail

and drop it back in my box."

It may take a couple of months before the junk content in your mailbox

drops noticeably, but a few minutes of effort now can save you hours of

frustration later. "It took some persistence," says Salomon of his

anti-junk efforts, "but it was worth it. Now when I see a stack of mail

in my box, I know it's things I want to read n not a waste of time and

paper."

Liz Borkowski is the Manager of Co-op America's WoodWise Program. Co-op

America is a non-profit information center for environmentally

responsible purchasing and investing. You can obtain a free copy of the

WoodWise Consumer by calling (800) 58-GREEN; materials are also

available online at www.woodwise.org.