‘Please no flyers’: Should postal advertising be more strictly controlled in Germany?

Many German apartment buildings have a designated bin for unwanted advertisement pamphlets. An opt-in system may help reduce waste, but some believe it could be damaging for local business.

'Please no flyers': Should postal advertising be more strictly controlled in Germany?
'No advertising' signs are not always observed in Germany. Photo: DPA

“Stop! No advertising”, “Please no flyers” or “Junk mail banned!” – these are just some of the phrases often seen taped to post boxes across Germany. 

Those who don’t want to receive advertising pamphlets have to make that clear by putting a sign on their postbox.

A wasteful system

The non-profit organisation Environmental Action Germany (DUH) wants to redesign the system to ensure that advertising brochures are only delivered to those who actively want them. This could be indicated by a sign saying “advertisements welcome”.

Chairwoman of German Environmental Aid, Barbara Metz, told DPA that an opt-in system would be beneficial to everyone. 

“Those who still want to receive advertising can simply make that known with a sign on their postbox,” said Metz. “This would help reduce the senseless waste produced by unwanted advertisements.”

READ ALSO: Complaints against Germany's postal service soar in the first half of 2020

Postal advertising in Germany “produces mountains of waste and fills entrance halls with litter, as well as being a huge waste of resources and bad for the environment”.

The organisation has launched a petition to pressure the German government, and specifically Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht of the Social Democrat Party, into taking action.

According to their spokeswoman, the Ministry of Justice currently has no plans to introduce such a system. If consumers were asked to actively express their consent, “probably only a small number” of them would do so.

A local lifeline?

While such a system would help reduce waste, it would also “restrict commercial freedom”, she explained. 

This method of advertising is particularly important for local companies. “It is also important to protect freedom of press, as some pamphlets also contain an editorial section.”

Consumers who do not want advertising can already make this clear “without much effort”, she added.

'No advertising' signs are not always observed, however. Consumer advice centers monitor infringements against the current rules and take action against repeat offenders. 

However, free advertising leaflets which also contain an editorial section can be put into post boxes regardless of any signs. 

The Federal Environment Agency (UBA) estimates that Germany’s 41.3 million households receive 500 to 700 grams worth of unsolicited advertising and free newspapers per week, which in turn amounts to 1.1 to 1.5 million tonnes of paper every year. 

This figure does not include the households with 'no advertising' signs. However, and the exact number of these remains unknown.

Balancing act

“Producing and distributing paper flyers damages the environment, and so resources should be used as sparingly as possible.”, said UBA expert Almut Reichart.

Free newspapers are normally made entirely out of waste paper, but even paper recycling has negative effects on the environment. 

She also stressed, however, that these newspapers can contain important information. 

“It is difficult to draw a line between unwanted advertising and information useful to customers and citizens, all while considering the associated right to freedom of speech.”

READ ALSO: Five ways Germany makes you greener (without even noticing) 

A survey carried out in May by the DUH and the Kantar Institute sought to look further into the issue.

According to the study, 78 percent of people aged 14 and over in Germany saw the environmental impact of printed circulars and advertising brochures as “very high” or “rather high”, while 61 percent thought that unsolicited advertising brochures should be banned. 

On the other hand, 69 percent admit to occasionally planning ahead for their weekly shop, and 60 percent of them use advertising brochures to do so.

According to the German Advertising Federation, only 27 percent of post boxes in Germany have a ‘no advertising’ sign.

Mixed opinions

Mailbox advertising is vital not only for the local economy, but also for sport and cultural societies, it says. “It is the most important way of reaching existing and new customers”.

Introducing new restrictions would put local companies at a “substantial disadvantage” compared to online businesses, they argue. 

In addition, the impact that mail advertising has on the environment is consistently overestimated, because most advertisements are printed on recycled paper. An opt-in model would also be tantamount to 'nannying’ the population, they said. 

The association Letzte Werbung (Last Advertisement) sees it differently. The organisation was set up to combat unwanted advertising, and they worked together with the DUH to launch the petition calling for an opt-in system. 

“When people browse the internet, they are given the option to consent to advertising”, said chairman Sebastian Sielmann. Consumers are not given the same option when it comes to printed advertising, which “makes no sense”. 


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Green Party leader: ‘Right-wing parties want to push us out of parliament’

Per Bolund, joint leader of Sweden's Green party, spoke for thirteen and a half minutes at Almedalen before he mentioned the environment, climate, or fossil fuels, in a speech that began by dwelling on healthcare, women's rights, and welfare, before returning to the party's core issue.

Green Party leader: 'Right-wing parties want to push us out of parliament'

After an introduction by his joint leader Märta Stenevi, Bolund declared that his party was going into the election campaign on a promise “to further strengthen welfare, with more staff and better working conditions in healthcare, and school without profit-making, where the money goes to the pupils and not to dividends for shareholders”. 

Only then did he mention the party’s efforts when in government to “build the world’s first fossil-free welfare state”. 

“We know that if we want welfare to work in the future, we must have an answer to our time’s biggest crisis: the threat to the environment and the climate,” he said.

“We know that there is no welfare on a dead planet. We need to take our society into a new time, where we end our dependency on oil, meet the threat to the climate, and build a better welfare state within nature’s boundaries, what we call a new, green folkhem [people’s home].” 

He presented green policies as something that makes cities more liveable, with the new sommargågator — streets pedestrianised in the summer — showing how much more pleasant a life less dependent on cars might be.  

He then said his party wanted Sweden to invest 100 billion kronor a year on speeding up the green transition, to make Sweden fossil fuel-free by 2030. 

“We talk about the climate threat because it’s humanity’s biggest challenge, our biggest crisis,” he said. “And because we don’t have much time.” 

In the second half of his speech, however, Bolund used more traditional green party rhetoric, accusing the other political parties in Sweden of always putting off necessary green measures, because they do not seem urgent now, like a middle-aged person forgetting to exercise. 

“We know that we need to cut emissions radically if we are even going to have a chance of meeting our climate goal, but for all the other parties there’s always a reason to delay,” he said. 

“We are now seeing the curtain go up on the backlash in climate politics in Sweden. All the parties have now chosen to slash the biofuels blending mandate which means that we reduce emissions from petrol and diesel step for step, so you automatically fill your tank in a greener way. Just the government’s decision to pause the  reduction mandate will increase emissions by a million tonnes next year.” 

The right-wing parties, he warned, were also in this election running a relentless campaign against the green party. 

“The rightwing parties seem to have given up trying to win the election on their own policies,” he said. “Trying to systematically push out of parliament seems to be their way of trying to take power. And they don’t seem above any means. Slander campaigns, lies, and false information have become every day in Swedish right-wing politics.” 

He ended the speech with an upbeat note. 

“A better, more sustainable world is possible. There is a future to long for. If you give us a chance then that future is much closer than you think!”

Read the speech here in Swedish and here in (Google Translated) English.