How the Dutch Came Up With a Simple Solution to Unwanted Advertising in their Mailboxes

I have been in Utrecht for a few days, the fourth largest city in the Netherlands and a very pleasant place to spend some time, given that the majority of its beautiful historic center is closed or heavily restricted to cars — as all city centers should be.

Walking through a Dutch city, the first thing that catches your attention is the omnipresence of the bicycle, which seems to be used for just about everything. It takes a little while to get used to looking left right and left again before crossing a road, but fortunately, nobody has forced bikes to issue any warning noise other than the little bell they carry.

Another thing that catches the attention when walking around the city are the stickers, like the ones above, pasted on practically every mailbox: the idea being to give residents a say in what is posted through their door, for example unaddressed advertising brochures and magazines. More information can be found here (link in Dutch), as well as the stickers. I imagine there are others, because I have seen varied formats, although they all have the NO/NO or NO/YES in large letters in orange or green.

Photo credit: Enrique Dans

A logical opt-out system and one that judging by its popularity works very well. Amsterdam has gone a step further and instead of an opt-out system has gone for an opt-in system: sending or distributing advertising without an address has been forbidden since January 1, 2018 and can only be delivered when there is a green sticker on a mailbox, like the one in the illustration, expressly announcing that the resident wants to receive it. No sticker, no advertising at all.
This seems the perfect solution to advertising that is hugely damaging to the environment and should simply be banned: allow us to decide if we want flyers and brochures; companies breaching the rules can then be prosecuted.

I like the Dutch approach. For years I have been demanding a solution for a type of marketing that is clearly outdated, wasteful, and probably highly ineffective. Piles of unwanted advertising in my mailbox alerts potential thieves when I’m not at home and requires me to throw it, usually without even looking at it. These kinds of activities, which include electoral material and stuffing flyers on the windshields of parked cars, needs to be severely restricted: times have changed and they are relics of another age.

This post was previously published on and is republished here under a Creative Commons license CC BY-ND 3.0.

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