Gallery: GREEN RANT: Stop Sending me Phone Books!

photo from byrdhouse/Kevin Byrd in Atlanta, GA
 

Inspiration for this rant landed on doorsteps in my area a few weeks ago, and has been sitting there, becoming increasingly soggy and unsightly ever since. Digging around the internet I found that many other people are also upset about the massive yellow and white phone books forced upon them. Some areas even have four or five phone directory companies distributing books to each residence! Maybe the contract companies hired to drop off the books do not have the resources to consider individual addresses in metropolitan areas like Philadelphia, where I reside, but the litter created globally by the mass amounts of unwanted phone books seems inexcusable. Wanting to know who I could point a finger at, I set out to find the root cause of the issue.

A PERVASIVE PROBLEM

My exploration started a few months ago when I signed up on a website called yellowpagesgoesgreen.org which claims it will act on your behalf to stop phone books from being delivered. Despite whatever efforts that site, or other petition sites like PaperlessPetition.org might try to initiate, I now understand that many publishers do not accept third party opt-out requests. I searched high and low for another way to get my name off the delivery list for my local area Verizon Superpages, but any information I found was confusing and did not guarantee my opt-out. I don’t want to discredit the efforts of directory publishers that are using safer ink, promoting recycling, using recycled pulp content (40%) and reducing the weight of the directories, but frankly I expect more from the same companies that helped bring us progressive paperless technology like smartphones, and digital billboards.

With multitudes of resources available online, in addition to cell phone compatible search applications, I struggle to justify the consumer need for over 500 million phone books printed each year. Compared to a hard copy, web directories are superior since they have additional features like consumer reviews or maps and directions. Not surprisingly, statistics point to a decline in number of people using paper directories. In response to Consumerist.com poll asking “Should Consumers Be Able To Opt-Out Of Phone Book Deliveries,” 98.5% of the voters said they want the choice to opt-out and that they use the internet for directory information.

Photo by Tim Welch in Orlando, FL

RECYCLING PHONE BOOKS IS NOT ENOUGH

Case in point: Simply recycling phone books is not enough. I spoke with an executive director from America More Beautiful, who is in partnership with AT&T to facilitate information on phone book recycling. She receives many calls from suburban residents who do not have single-stream recycling and whose local recycling centers are reluctant to take phonebooks because of the dwindling demand for paper pulp in a down economy. You can find out online if AT&T Yellowpages recycling is offered in your area or call 1-877-88RECYCLE. In addition to the decrease in demand there are also reports stating that in some states, 85% of phone books get absorbed into non-recyclable trash stream. That just makes me sick.

HOW TO CUT DOWN ON PHONE BOOK WASTE

1. Change the Distribution System

Chin up. The good news is that there are many ideas floating around the newswires for addressing the issue, and plenty of barnstormers out there pushing the message to the top. An extensively explored suggestion it to make all phone books strictly on-demand, so that you would be required to request a book it you wanted one. A variation of this concept could be to make the books available for pick up at community centers, libraries, recycling centers where you can discard old books, or other designated locations.

2. Just Say No

A second option is to create an opt-out registry similar to the Do Not Call Registry, designed to stop phone solicitation, or the DMA Choice program, that lets you control the types of direct mail you receive. The YellowPages Group of Canada, and smaller publishers like Impact Directories, have initiated an opt-out option through an online form.

Another method of discouraging drop-off is proposed by the UK based 192 online directory company, who has designed a “No Phonebooks” door sticker. This idea could have flaws for apartment buildings that get bombarded with stacks of books filling the lobby.

3. Service Providers Should Take Responsibility

I add a last suggestion for reform that could help increase recycling and also solve the issue of unwanted books littering doorsteps: Service providers that distribute the directories should also be responsible for collecting and recycling outdated books and books that are not taken indoors.

Photo by Willie Stark in Arizona

THE PHONE BOOK COMPANIES RESPOND

I presented these ideas along with snapshots of the abandoned phonebook clutter, to media contacts at the biggest players in the directory business. I was actually expecting deaf ears, but instead I received responses that were enlightening.

Verizon Superpages

The media relations representative from Idearc Media LLC, the company responsible for the Verizon Superpages, quickly replied with an informative and apologetic email. He said that the “bottom line is it shouldn’t be happening and we are working diligently to make sure it doesn’t happen.” If you wish to change your delivery options for the Superpages, contact your local publisher or call Idearc directly at 1-800-888-8448. Superpages recycling information is available online or on the inside cover of your directory.

Yellow Pages

Another powerhouse behind the big books is RHDonnelley, responsible for the Dex Yellow Pages, AT&T Real Yellow Pages in Illinois and Indiana, and EMBARQ Yellow Pages. I received fantastic news from Dex Brand Directories – just last month, they kicked off their “Select Your Dex” program, where consumers can specify the type and number of Dex Directories they receive. You can change your options online or call 1-866-60-My-Dex. Their website also provides information on recycling your old Dex diretory.

AT&T

I also found out that AT&T has been pushing for strictly on-demand delivery service in many areas. They faced controversy two years ago when the state feared a raise in costs for 411 call operations and contested the proposal for residential Whitepages to be strictly on demand in Raleigh, NC. Unfortunately, organizations like The Yellow Pages Association spend millions lobbying against on-demand directory programs. Due to the powerful lobbying, proposals from state legislators to make unsolicited delivery of phone books illegal were unsuccessful in Alaska, Hawaii, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina and Washington. You will be happy to know that earlier this year AT&T restarted the discussion for on-demand distribution in North Carolina and additionally in Missouri. Similar, successful programs already running in Texas, Georgia, and Ohio have proved that less than 2% of the population requests print directories when given the option, so we hope they are able to broaden the reach for on-demand circulation.

THE ROAD AHEAD

While thousands of phone books lie homeless on the streets, consumer frustration is not likely to disappear easily. It is promising to know that the big yellow book companies are beginning to fight the up-hill battle toward a greener agenda and several are already initiating programs. If you don’t currently have an opt-out, or on-demand options with your local directory company, get on the horn and let them know you want the choice!

Lead photo by Arek Taylor in San Diego

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7 Comments

  1. jjones444 December 6, 2010 at 1:35 pm

    I can’t believe companies still waste all their time and money sending paper phone books anymore. The only thing they are good for anymore is door stops or booster seats. I think they’re a thing of the past and should be gone, since nobody has looked at one for a decade. It’s not like the newspaper, which is a great American news source and piece of history; it’s a huge waste of space and paper. http://www.cityplacepharmacy.com

  2. daverad January 14, 2010 at 9:56 pm

    This has been driving me crazy as well! My bro and I decided to start a rolling catalog of photos showing how wasteful phone books are!

    If you come across any phone books on the street snap a photo and send it to: pics@stopyellowwaste.com

    All the photos pop up on: http://stopyellowwaste.com/ and if you take it with a smartphone the photos will also geotag so we can show how serious the problem is across the globe.

    There are so many people who stand behind this cause – its time for phone book companies to think beyond the book!

  3. urbangoing.org September 17, 2009 at 2:52 pm

    In San Diego, when I lived there, this was a huge problem. Out of pure green rage one time, a friend and I followed a pick-up truck full of books that was passing through our hood. We were on foot, picking up as many stacks as we could carry, just seconds after the delivery guys would drop them off. We hid behind bushes and buildings trying to stay out of their site. When they would throw the hazards on and walk stacks of books up to the different apartment complexes, we would strike, filling the back of their truck back up with the books they had just dropped off minutes earlier.

    This, of course, is not the way to combat the issue, but like I mentioned, I was fuming at the time, and didn’t really care, as long as I got my little sucker punch in.

    Great article and follow-up Lea.

    I imagine in the tough times we’re currently facing economically, that it must be dangerously foolish for these large companies to keep spending huge amounts of money on print materials. Slowing the spending on print seems like an easy way to cut corners on their end of things- in hopes of saving a little coin. That being said, you would think that this would be advantageous to the public- people like you and I who want to see this type of nonsense stopped.

    It’s wonderful to hear the responses you’ve received. That alone leads me to believe that my assumptions about cutting corners on print costs must be at least somewhat accurate.

    Keep us in the loop!

  4. Lea Stewart Lea Bogdan September 5, 2009 at 8:53 am

    Hey readers! A follow up from my Green Rant article. My block was doused by another round of bagged up phonebooks ready to become rain soaked trash. This time the books were from Yellowbook. I had failed to include them on my original post, but they are also a major player in directory printing and operate in 48 states.

    Here is additional information is you would like to opt-out as I just did a few minutes ago. The inside cover of the directory points customers to http://corporate.yellowbook.com/contact-us/print-directory-inquiries/ to request opt-out. I’m doubtful that this will actually work since the vacant luxury condo building next to me currently has six books littering the walk outside its front door, and I suspect the delivery of the books is not on an individual basis. It is worth a try though!

  5. edkohler August 14, 2009 at 11:57 am

    The yellow pages industry does offer opt-out options, although they have a bad habit of ignoring their own opt-out lists. So, while I don’t think it hurts to opt-out, don’t get your hopes up regarding future deliveries.

  6. chrisp68 August 13, 2009 at 10:07 pm

    Superb article… Yes we are a country of over plenty and just don’t give a %^&$

    Makes me think of the bag recycle container in front of the grocery store… people feel good about the effort they have made to bring the bags to the recycling container… But my question is why don’t they just reuse the plastic bags they just dropped off?

  7. nhubof August 13, 2009 at 5:39 pm

    I just created a Facebook group, Scrap the Phonebook, so please join.
    http://www.facebook.com/home.php#/group.php?gid=122047491637&ref=nf

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