Every year, hundreds of millions of phone books are printed and distributed in the United States, and many of them go straight into trash cans or recycling bins. While many Americans see this as just a way of life, they may not truly understand the negative impact that the waste is having on our environment.
On average, 500 million phone books are printed and distributed annually. This process requires 1.6 billion pounds of paper, more than seven million barrels of oil, and close to 3.2 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity. These numbers don’t even take into account the costs associated with delivery and distribution.
The current solution to phone book crisis is to use a Yellow Pages opt-out site, which lets consumers choose to not receive phone books. Unfortunately, not all publishers are associated with opt-out sites and some simply choose to not honor opt-out requests. Phone book publishers demonstrate value to their customers by distribution numbers — reducing distribution numbers via opt-out choices would greatly hurt their sales pitch.
While the opt-out system has been a step in the right direction, it is not a complete solution. The answer will come from new movements that are gaining momentum in stopping this wasteful practice. Here are the four strongest initiatives to reduce the impact of printed phone books on our environment:
- Some local governments are looking into charging phone book publishers a fee for every phone book that ends up in their landfills. (The City of San Francisco alone estimates that seven million pounds of phone book paper ends up in their landfills each year.) These charges could range anywhere from $5 to $125 per book. Local governments hope this will help to reduce the amount of waste in landfills, and help offset the cost of the waste processing and recycling caused by unwanted phone books.
- Many building and property owners are banning the bulk delivery of phone books to their facilities. They claim that they are tired of having to handle the books and that the majority of them end up in their dumpsters anyway.
- Another ordinance that is being proposed in some cities requires that phone book publishers deliver their phone books in reusable plastic bags. Then consumers can choose to remove the new book and place the old book bag in the plastic bag. The following week, the phone book publishers will return to collect all of the old books that have been placed out in the plastic bags. This helps to shift the burden of waste and recycling from the city to the publishers.
- The most popular movement is the one that calls for an opt-in system that would allow consumers who do want a phone book to request one. This system would greatly reduce all of the negative effects associated with phone books and lead to significantly greater efficiency within the industry. Unfortunately, this system is the most detrimental to publishers’ business models and will drastically reduce their distribution numbers.
The phone book has been a part of our culture for more than 100 years, but they have outlived their usefulness for a growing number of consumers. The unnecessary waste created by phone books can no longer be ignored. While some advances have been made to reduce this waste, more education among consumers is needed. If you are interested in learning more about the efforts to stop the waste created by phone books, visit YellowPagesUnited.org.
Brian Williams is the Content Director for YellowPagesUnited.org, an organization working to reduce the impact of phone books on the environment.