Wellington City Council wants to crackdown on unwanted junk mail by introducing a new bylaw empowering officers to dish out fines.
The new rules would give legitimacy to people's "no junk mail" signs. Auckland Council has never prosecuted or fined anyone over junk mail in a similar bylaw.
But Wellington waste minimisation portfolio leader councillor Laurie Foon said it was the start of sending a message to junk mail producers that "we don't want it anymore".
A council report said unaddressed mail was an issue because it resulted in littering, waste and public nuisance.
The bylaw would make it an offence to distribute unaddressed mail to letterboxes that had "no circulars", "no junk mail" and "addressed mail only" notices.
Exemptions include public notices from any government party or local authority, community newsletters, political party material, and communications or fundraising material from community groups and charities.
Breaches would be enforced with fines of up to $400 issued under the Litter Act 1979 or prosecution.
But there's almost no precedent of councils going to those lengths under a bylaw.
That's because a fine can only be issued if a pamphlet lands on the ground making it litter, and it can be difficult to prove who dropped what.
The only avenue for cracking down on pamphlets in letterboxes with "no junk mail" signs is prosecution, which is considered costly and a waste of time.
Auckland City first introduced a similar bylaw in 2006 making it an offence for companies to place unsolicited advertising material into letterboxes that were already full or clearly marked "no junk mail".
But since then, the council has never issued any fines for littering or pursued any court prosecutions.
Auckland councillor Linda Cooper said such measures were a last resort but were necessary to have "if things get really bad".
She said the purpose of Auckland's bylaw was not so much about what was put in people's letterboxes, but to reduce incidental littering.
"Quite often people have purposely taken their mail and then they just throw anything they don't want onto the ground and it escapes onto the road, I've seen it so many times.
"Or people don't live there anymore and it's piling up and falling everywhere. I've also seen places where the kids are supposed to deliver the local newspaper and they ran out of time and couldn't be bothered and there's bales of it sitting there."
However Cooper said the bylaw did give legitimacy to signs on letterboxes requesting no junk mail.
Foon said Wellington's proposed bylaw was about sending the message that behaviour needed to change.
"The bylaw is one of many ways where we're almost starting to push back on the system that is just creating tonnes and tonnes of waste for our landfill."
Foon said if the bylaw was passed, the plan was for the region's mayors to write to stakeholders in the industry to ask them whether they really needed to produce junk mail.
Even using recycled paper would be an improvement, Foon said.
"At the moment it's virgin paper. We may not even know where it comes from, what forest has been pulled down to make it, and then it's just going into landfill and creating emissions so it's not a circular system."
New Zealand Marketing Association consultant Keith Norris said market forces worked to keep unwanted junk mail out of letterboxes.
"If you're the senior market director for the Warehouse, or Briscoes, or Mitre 10, the last thing you want is a customer, or would-be customer, being upset by receiving material that they don't to receive."
"It's almost impossible to fine anybody unless there is a blatant disregard and you get a dumping of huge parcels of unaddressed mail."
Norris said it was questionable whether the prospect of fines acted as a deterrent considering they were never issued.
Wellington City councillors will consider the proposed Solid Waste Bylaw at a committee meeting on Thursday.