17 Creative Things to Do with Phone Books

By Jeff Yeager on 5 June 2009 (Updated 8 April 2010) 15 comments

Is it just my imagination, or are they sending out updated editions of the phone book and Yellow Pages a lot more often than they used to?

When I was growing up, it seemed like we had the same phone book the whole time. I remember it, because my Uncle George — who fancied himself the Human Hulk — said he knew a trick whereby he could tear an entire phone book in half with his bare hands. It didn't quite work out that way, although he did thoroughly mangle the A-G listings.

And the Yellow Pages; I don't ever remember getting an updated version. Our copy was sort of our family Bible, not only a source of information but a record of our lives. Especially the page with the phone listing for our family doctor, which was crammed with frantically written margin notes in my mom's handwriting, instructions from the good doctor's office for treating her two accident-prone young sons. Things like: "Induce vomiting immediately!", "Not contagious...as far as the doctor knows," and (multiple entries) "Should pass in his stool within 48-hours."

Okay, so maybe it is just my imagination, but certainly the phone company is distributing a heck of a lot more phone books than they need to in this era when so many of us retrieve the phone numbers we need on the Internet instead. More than half a BILLION phone books are printed and distributed every year in the U.S., which is nearly two books for every American. That consumes about 19 million trees. Here's how to help curb this waste of paper and make the best use of outdated phone books you have on hand:

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  • Opt Out: Go to www.yellowpagesgoesgreen.org and register to be taken off the distribution list for white and yellow page phone books.
  • Recycle: Less than 10% of all phone books printed are recycled, even though they can be recycled into everything from ceiling tiles to cereal boxes. Go to earth911.com to find your nearest phone book recycling center.
  • Repurpose: As they say, "One man's trash is a Green Cheapskate's treasure." Here are some creative reuses for old phone books and Yellow Pages.
  • Child Booster Seats: Cover them in fabric remnants.
  • Press Autumn Leaves/Plants: Better yet, have the kids sit on them at the same time.
  • Flip Books: Here's a fun art project!
  • Window Wipes: Perfect for cleaning windows with a simple mixture of vinegar and water.
  • Phone Book Step Aerobics: Duct tape them together to use in stair-stepping exercises.
  • Fire Starters: Perfect for the fireplace, grill or woodstove.
  • Garden Mulch: Shred 'em (a few pages at a time, Uncle George), they're great biodegradable weed blockers.
  • Origami: Recreate the Tale of 10,000 Yellow Swans with a single book of Yellow Pages!
  • Pencil/Pen Holder: Here's a nifty craft project idea.
  • Papier Mache: It's not just for the Jr. High science fairs anymore.
  • Packaging Filler: Balled up or shredded.
  • Wax Paper Substitute: Use to separate baked goods and items in the freezer.
  • Paper Dresses: Careful, or his fingers may just do the walking through your Yellow Pages.
  • Make Your Voice Heard: Sign a petition to the Yellow Pages Association insisting that they move to an "on-demand system" of distributing directories (i.e. you only get one if you ask for one).

This post from the Green Cheapskate by Jeff Yeager is republished with the permission of The Daily Green.  Check out more great content from The Daily Green:

Tagged: Green Living
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Guest's picture

I generally recycle mine. Some of the other ideas may be useful though. In my area phone books are not really thick enough to be used for exercise or booster seats though.

Guest's picture

This may sound a bit redneck, but they do make good shooting targets.

Also, one year we gave 21 phone books to a friend for his 21st birthday. Just left them at his doorstep for a good WTF?! gag.

And another year we filled another friend's car with phone books and packing peanuts. (Don't do this unless you're willing to help clean up, though -- as we did.)

As you mentioned, they also make a great source of paper for wrapping things, as well as helping pack breakables for shipping.

Don't worry, we haven't been stealing phone books. We have friends in the apartment biz and every year there are stacks of unclaimed phone books left in the office.

Guest's picture
Lainey

I know that may sound a little crazy, but for those of us who have larger birds like macaws and cockatoos, phone books make excellent, cheap toys for them. We just drill a hole through the middle and hang from a thick rope or chain. They'll spend hours ripping off the pages, one at a time.

Guest's picture

I have always found phone books incredibly inspirational for business purposes. (Yes, really.) I'm an efficiency consultant and work with a wide variety of businesses; when I was getting started, I would open the yellow pages up to a random page and spend time considering what unique challenges that type of business might experience (or, on the flip side, how a second business might be able to save money when working with that type of business, preventative measures that might be taken, etc.).

I imagine a web designer or other type of service provider could find the yellow pages similarly helpful for brainstorming. In fact, the yellow pages gave me so many ideas I haven't been able to execute on yet that I have expressly forbidden myself from looking at it anymore.

Guest's picture
dms

I use the pages as paper towel substitutes. Tear out a few pages whenever you need to chop an onion or peel a carrot- talk about easy clean-up. Also works great to wick away grease from cooked foods.

Guest's picture
Guest

Here in Canada the Scouts come around and collect them. They do a door to door campaign & also have drop offs at some of the grocery stores (Safeway). They do end up getting paid for this (I can't recall if it's 10 cents or 25 cents a book), and it ends up helping them with travel costs. Two good deeds, and minimal effort on my behalf!

Guest's picture
vegetarian

YOu can shred several pages, dampen them and spread around your tile or wood floors. When you sweep up the shreds, they help collect the dust and pet hair that normally gets blown away.

Guest's picture
Guest

One for the Ladies: I tear out the pages to dispose of my sanitary items, instead of using toilet paper.

Guest's picture
Guest

The petition will never work as long as the current revenue system for phone books are in place. They have to charge businesses every year to keep their listings - and ever bigger listings - 3-4 pages for one company! This horrendous advertising cost is then passed on to the consumer. The small service company I work for used to spend 3-4 hundred THOUSAND dollars a year on yellow page ads. We've cut back and are doing much more marketing online. Two books in our area (Seattle) are declaring bankruptcy, yet they can't see that their product is outdated. I'm 30 and I haven't looked at a phone book in years.

Guest's picture
SimpleLife

Excellent post. I particularly liked the wax paper substitute idea -- and I also liked comments 5 and 8. I canceled my land line years ago -- and the funny thing is that I still get tons phonebooks -- I usually recycle them -- but I am going to start implementing these ideas...

Here's one -- Use it to clean mirrors!

Guest's picture
Diana

I had no idea you could opt out of receiving phone books. We generally get two every six months, which is really annoying. Thanks for the link to opt out of receiving one.

Guest's picture
Allie

I make my own kitty litter from newspaper - phone books work too. Here's the "recipe" http://alliesanswers.com/tip-of-the-day/tip-of-the-day-make-your-own-kit...

Guest's picture
Tammy

We get full size and minis of these things! I'm careful to keep them current and recycle the old issues.
I've never thought about using them for clean up rags! That is brilliant

Jeff Yeager's picture

Thanks for the additional tips.

Heard from one woman who drills a whole in the spine of the phone book, screws in a broom handle, and uses it as a damp mop.  Also had an email from a guy who built a garden shed out of phone books ... until the housing authorities made him take it down.

Stay Cheap!

-Jeff Yeager

Guest's picture

19 million trees?? Really, did you just make that number up? I mean considering phone books are made from the byproducts of trees and are 100% recyclable! Maybe do a little more research on adp.org and realize the truth.

Im sure the computer, smartphone, or tablet you used to create this article is a much bigger problem to the environment than a recyclable book made from recycled materials!!