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Ministers pressed to take action on junk mail

Ministers faced pressure last night to take action to tackle the scale of junk mail being delivered to British householders each year .

Norman Baker, the chairman of the Parliamentary all-party environment group, said he was writing to Alistair Darling, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, to demand tighter controls on direct mail, after Government figures showed that more than 21 billion pieces of promotional material were posted through letterboxes each year.

Mr Baker, Liberal Democrat MP for Lewes, who unearthed the figures, said he would also write to the chief executive of Royal Mail, Adam Crozier, to ask what the postal giant could do to achieve a reduction in the quantity of mail.

The Government will report this month on whether it has reached the target to recycle 30 per cent of junk mail that ministers set in 2003.

Under voluntary agreements, direct mail companies accepted a target to recycle 30 per cent of unwanted post by the end of 2005 and 70 per cent by 2013. However, only 13 per cent of direct mail was recycled by the end of 2003, increasing to a quarter in 2004.

Concern about the 65 per cent increase in junk mail since 1997 has increased because of the case of a Royal Mail postman, Roger Annies, who faces a disciplinary hearing after advising customers on his round how to avoid receiving junk mail.

Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have called for reductions in junk mail, amid warnings that each household receives around 168 pieces each year.

Last night Mr Baker said attempts at voluntary agreements to reduce the environmental impact of junk mail had been a failure.

He said: "It is clear that voluntary efforts to reduce junk mail simply have not worked because it is not in the interests of Royal Mail to make it work.

"This requires government intervention as well as a more rigorous approach by Royal Mail. I shall be writing to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to ensure that more is done."

Mr Baker said he wanted to see a reduction in the quantity of direct mail as well as greater recycling rates. "This is about a reduction in junk mail, not just recycling. It is much better environmentally to reduce consumption rather than just recycle mail," he said.