Malta’s letterboxes are stuffed with around 10 kg of junk mail every year, a previously unpublished government study has found. 

This amounts to an estimated 400 unsolicited advertising leaflets delivered to every home annually, much of which ends up littering the streets or goes straight into the recycling bin.

The study monitored 47 homes across 28 localities in Malta over a six-week period between February and March 2016 and extrapolated the results to the rest of the country.

Although the volume of Malta’s junk mail was reviewed six years ago, the findings have remained under wraps.  But the study, carried out by a team from the Directorate for the Environment and Climate Change, appears to remain valid, as it was recently referred to in a new long-term waste management plan launched by the government last month.  

An environment ministry spokesperson supplied Times of Malta with the study’s findings in response to questions.

The study found that real estate businesses were the biggest culprit, making up around 56 per cent of the advertising mail sent by post.

This also accounted for over 66 per cent of the total weight of material distributed. Real estate-related material was generally the bulkiest, as multi-page leaflets acting as a sort of mini magazine/brochure were stuffed into letterboxes in the homes reviewed.

The spokesperson did not say whether the study made any reference to political junk mail.

Real estate businesses were the biggest culprit, making up around 56 per cent of the advertising mail sent by post

Homes across the country are targeted by political candidates who send out reams of promotional material in their constituency, especially in the lead-up to election campaigns.

While the study gave an estimate of the amount of junk mail received, the spokesperson conceded that it was difficult to be certain because the study period was narrow.

The best way to address the nuisance of junk mail has had policymakers stumped for decades. In 2009, the PN government announced it would start addressing the matter, but its plans remained unrealised.

With the change in administration, the 2013 Labour government also said it would tackle the issue, however, plans and policy documents stayed on the shelf.

In its latest round of proposals, the government is saying it will introduce new ways to allow the public to avoid junk mail. Its proposal is to allow people to “unsubscribe” from unsolicited mail. The waste plan says the government will draft a regulatory framework to allow opt-out schemes for unaddressed mail.

“Such a framework would result in legislative action for non-compliance with databases of those who have opted out, or who have placed physical stickers on mailboxes,” the document reads.

The government says it will couple this with the development of a new “digital platform for local magazines”.

This would allow the public to sign up for physical copies, say of a real estate ‘magazine’.

Companies will also be “encouraged” to distribute catalogues in appropriate locations, such as supermarkets and stationeries, where people can make the conscious choice to take a copy, rather than find them stuffed in with their personal mail.

The government is also suggesting it would support the development and maintenance of such a platform which should allow those who are interested in adverts in paper format to view them electronically.

A survey is planned to assess how many households would opt out of unaddressed mail and would prefer to receive it electronically.

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