Opt-out of the wasteful $26 billion phone directory industry

By Paul Michael on 21 August 2008 (Updated 27 August 2008) 21 comments
Photo: onebabyzebra

In this day and age of the internet, free Google 411 and a host of other paperless directory services, what use do the big, fat phone directories serve? I don’t know about you, but when I get those large plastic bags filled with 3lb phone books, I usually put them straight in the recycling bin. We never use them. Now a website similar to the National No-Call registry is asking you to sign up and stop receiving these archaic books.

The facts speak loud and clear; the massive amount of money and resources the phone directory industry sucks up is phenomenal. This, from YellowPagesGoesGreen.org :

  • 540 million directories are printed annually in the United States.
  • The average weight of each directory is 3.62 lbs.
  • 1.79 directories are printed for every man, woman and child in the US.
  • The phone directory industry is worth over $13 billion in the US (that figure doubles to $26 billion worldwide).
  • It takes 24 trees to make 1 ton of paper.
  • It takes over 19 million trees to make half a trillion directories.
  • It takes 380 gallons of oil to produce that ton of paper (over 7.2 billion barrels per 500,000,000 books).
  • 3 cubic yards of waste are taken up by one ton of paper (that equates to 1.6 billion lbs per 500,000,000 books).
  • Over 270,000 cubic yards of landfill are taken up per 500,000,000
  • 7,000 gallons of water go into the production of one ton of paper.
  • 4,000 kilowatts of energy are also needed to make that ton of paper (3.2 billion KW hours/500,000,000 books).

As a frugal shopper, I deplore waste (the main image at the top of this article came from someone who spotted DOZENS of yellow pages in their apartment building's dumpster). And the idea that these millions and millions of directories are being printed so that at least 90% of us can just put them into the recycling bin, well, that just burns me up. So much money, so many resources, all for nothing.

Decades ago, there was a need for phone directories. But that industry needs to face one hard fact; it is going the way of the dinosaur. And continually producing these books is merely prolonging the inevitable, but wasting precious time and money in the process. However, if we all do something about it, maybe we can speed that process up.

Simply click on this link and you’ll be directed to the opt-out page at YellowPagesGoesGreen.org, where you can opt out of both the yellow and white pages. The website’s mission statement is both clear and admirable:

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Yellowpagesgoesgreen.org is an organization working to educate consumers and promote the green movement to eliminate the unsolicited delivery of Yellow and White Pages books. This site is aimed at starting a national movement to solicit the White/Yellow Pages industry to proactively stop the delivery of books or to begin moving legislation to mandate the stoppage of this activity. This movement should be similar to the National No-Call Registry that have stopped and/or decreased the number of unwanted solicitations telephone calls to consumers.

A college student who was renting a house in Liberty, Missouri founded Yellowpagesgoesgreen.org. The number of telephone books delivered to the house was overwhelming and the work required to recycle them was daunting. When he spoke with his neighbors they all told him they just threw them away. Due to the use of technology, he felt these books were now outdated. However, he understood that some people may still want them and felt the best way to limit this tremendous waste was to mimic the National No-Call Directory. Additionally, he wanted this site to serve as a depository for information and educational issues concerning the green movement.

I put my name down this morning; and unless you have a real need for these books, like in the video below from collegehumor.com , or maybe propping up a young child at the table, so that they can reach their chicken soup, I urge you to do the same. It's time to put the phone directories out of their misery.

Note: There's a tiny bit of "colorful" language in the vid...turn down the volume if you're at work or around young ones.

Thanks to The Denver Egotist (via LifeHacker) for bringing this subject to my attention.

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Myscha Theriault's picture

What is up with the folks who can't keep track of how many they've sent you and keep sending more? Geeze . . .

Andrea Karim's picture

Thanks, Paul! I always just throw mine straight into recycling. I didn't know you could opt out. I get a new one every few months, and I never use it, ever.

Paul Michael's picture

Seriously, when was the last time you needed a dry cleaner and went to the phone book instead of the web? I suppose they're handy for gas stations and other public places, but privately, I suspect most people don't need them anymore. Even goog411 can help you find services, and that's free from your phone.

Guest's picture
pidgeon92

I signed up for this the other day, but honestly, do you think the people who deliver the phonebooks actually have a list of addresses to not drop them? I seriously doubt it. Just like the irritating local advertising papers that get tossed in the driveway every week, that most people don't bother to pick up for weeks, if ever.

Paul Michael's picture

is a wonderful thing. At the very least, they website will have one huge list of names for a petition.

Guest's picture

I sure wish these were recycled. A number of them are simply thrown into the trash.

Guest's picture
Guest

I'm signing up today. We also get several copies per year that go straight into the recycle. Once in a while we'll switch out an old copy on the shelf for a new one - we have some non-computer-oriented folks who visit and insist on using our phone book, so we have to keep one copy.

Around here the phonebook delivery drivers are often too lazy to even drop them on each doorstep. They just leave a stack near each bank of mailboxes where they sit and rot because nobody wants to take them home.

Paul Michael's picture

...I didn't even mention the gas it must take to get all of these books delivered. One more nail in that coffin.

Guest's picture
Guest

Why don't they just use 100% recycled paper, ink, etc... for those products? And deliver them with electric, hybrid or flex-fuel vehicles. These books are also helpful to those without internet access, the elderly, the poor, and technology aversive people. But I agree there should be a way to opt out for those who don't want one. It makes no sense to see these wasted when it costs so much to produce them. I personally find them useful even though the internet is around. It's also cheaper on the world to use a book rather than a powered internet appliance to look up mundane information like telephone numbers and addresses. You save electricity in that sense. Further, you get exercise while moving to find the telephone directory that you know you stored somewhere in the kitchen.

It would be also rather cool if these could be sent out in electronic form via email say in PDF format... for those who'd prefer an electronic version.

Guest's picture
Brigid

I live in a small city (population 28,000) and for some reason four different publishers put out directories to my city (combined white and yellow pages). Two are fairly useless, but two are actually very good, with lists in the front of schools, parks, elected officials, even local clubs and organizations. One of them even has menus from local restaurants in the yellow pages, a feature I used just today, when I was stuck at my desk at lunchtime. And there's a fold-out map of my city in the back. I always keep one of these directories in my car.

Also, sometimes it is quicker to look up a number in a paper book than on the internet.

But the four-inch-thick, extremely generic yellow pages for the greater metropolitan area? That goes directly into the recycling bin.

Guest's picture
Johnny A.

Paul, thanks for this info. I am going to give it a try right now! These cumbersome books end up as weed-block mulch in my garden.

But I think the "phone book fairies" know when I do that. When I rip them up, the next day I walk down the driveway and there's a couple more!

Guest's picture
dita

here's a different perspective...

@9
Why don't they have them delivered using hybrid cars? Because the people they pay (like me) to deliver them can't afford hybrids. I was a newspaper carrier that also contracted with telephone directory companies to earn some extra money.

Sometimes political correctness can go too far in the other direction. If hybrid cars became a requirement for that job (which I don't think it can be since it typically is a 1099 position), that would eliminate many of the very people who depend on those types of jobs. Sometimes we forget that being able to stick to our principles is truly a luxury. I am a subscriber to two newspapers and one magazine, but all three are online only subscriptions. Ideologically, I am in favor of reducing paper waste, but at the same time, that was the only viable source of income I had for my schedule(it was literally that or "adult actress").

Also. goes to show you can't please everyone- another poster referred to deliverers dropping books off at a central location- even if I had the most efficient car in the world, using the latest technology, parking my car every three houses because someone wanted their newspaper on their doorstep was the reason why I eventually left the job. (and we are the lazy ones?)

The reason I took jobs like that (and am considering going back) is because the money was decent and the hours did not interfere with my class schedule. Most employers these days see the word "student" and think that equals $6 per hour or "internship."

@ author of post
Also, I think statements like "Honestly, when was the last time you needed a dry cleaner and went to the phone book instead of the web?" prove just how out of touch you are with society beyond your immediate circle. A lot of people do not have 24/7 access to the Internet. Think of how many retail or other non office workers there are that might need to make an doctors appointment on their break and don't have access to the Internet. I work at a community center where the majority of people don't even own computers in their homes. This is true in both urban and rural areas. I personally cannot afford a laptop, and honestly don't know if I ever will. I can't afford a fancy phone with internet either. There are many others like me. I know that going to the phone book first doesn't make me a dinosaur because I have found results that I was not able to locate on the web, or didn't come up in the first few pages of the search.

Paul Michael's picture

..I can't be that out of touch if there's a movement in place to try and get rid of these books. And I did a quick straw poll at the office, asking people when was the last time they had looked at a yellow or white pages for a number, either at work or home. Out of 31 people, 2 said last month. The rest said "too long ago to remember" or "not in years." Maybe that makes my office out of touch?

Guest's picture
Canadian girl

I don't understand what makes phone books so difficult to recycle? Am I missing something, or isn't just as easy to throw an unwanted book in the recycle bin as the garbage?

Paul, the poll at your office doesn't prove anything (again, limited scope). A significant portion of the U.S.'s population is retired. Statistically, there are more people under 50 using the internet than over 50. (And they hold a significant portion of the country's wealth and spending power). Besides, even computer and internet-literate people still prefer the phone book out of habit.

I like the idea of opting out of getting a phone book, but I have to think that the people who deliver the books don't have a master list of addresses to avoid. In Canada, we only get one or two books a year (at most), but they aren't addressed to our homes. I live in an apartment, so we just receive a batch of books in the lobby.

It seems to me that registering for a service like this (if it was available in Canada) doesn't do my any good... It's just a means for someone to collect my personal information.

I would love to see a petition to produce less books. I think that would make a difference.

Guest's picture
Canadian girl

Oops. I meant that the over 50s are the ones with significant buying power.

Guest's picture
Jay

Thanks so much for providing the opt-out link. The video was funny, too.

The thing about the Google number (someone else mentioned it above) is that it only has business listings. If you want business, government, and residential listings and you're not near a computer screen, the way to go is 1-800-FREE411. Our number pretty much replaces the need for the Yellow Pages, White Pages, and those blue government pages at the beginning of the book. Oh yeah, it's also as free as it sounds.

Cheers,
Jay

Guest's picture
Suz

I never knew that it was an option to opt out of the telephone book- I hate them and always have like 4 or 5 delivered to my door each month, it's agrivating. Though I recycle them, it'll be much better to be able to opt out. Thanks!

-Suz

Guest's picture

What the folks at YellowPagesGoesGreen are doing is great stuff. Most likely will NOT stop the Yellow Pages from arriving on your doorstep. At least not yet.

Best way to stop the insanity is call the publishers direct.

Guest's picture
Mike H

Please double-check the information you quoted in your post:

"It takes over 19 million trees to make half a million directories." Really? 38 trees for 1 phone book? There must be more people to call in your area. :-)

The actual information on the web site referred to 500 million directories, rather than the 500,000 you use throughout the numbers you listed.

I agree that being able to opt-out is a good idea, but please double-check your numbers.

Paul Michael's picture

I have made the corrections, thanks for the heads up.

Guest's picture
Tim Henry

I happen to be one of the owners of MyJunkTree and as a new company I search the web to see if we are getting any visibility out there and I post on relevant blogs.
We launched the company because we were tired of all the junk mail we were receiving and we personally did not want to bounce all over the web to contact all the different companies to stop it all. First and foremost we wanted to let people choose what they wanted to let come to their home knowing that some people really do like some of the coupons and catalogs. So our clients choose what they want stopped.

We also had to provide a service that is different than the other services out there, so here is what we offer:

1. We have a database of over 1300 catalogs that you can choose to stop.
2. We have over a 2000 charities/Non-Profits that you can stop solicitations from.
3. Stop the delivery of the national phone directories.
4. Stop the delivery of the weekly coupons.
5. Stop the general credit card offers as well as the ones from your own major bank.
6. Stop the miscellaneous junk mail from the data brokers.
7. You can register on the National Do Not Call Registry from the website.
8. You can order your no strings attached free annual credit report right from the website.
9. We plant trees with every new membership.

And, yes we are a paid service and yes you can do everything that we do for free, if you want to do all the research and spend the time contacting the companies yourself it can easily be done. We have just done all of the legwork for our clients and feel there is value in the service we provide.