Should the Phone Book be an Opt-In Service?

phone books

How many times a year do you leave your house to find a thousand-plus book of names and numbers waiting for you on your stoop or drive? This has become an undeniably wasteful practice. It’s bad enough that direct (“junk”) mail is still a widely used method of advertising firms and corporate entities. The general public has no idea what kind of a footprint all this printing has.

According to the Product Stewardship Institute, about 660,000 tons (that’s 1.5 trillion lbs.) get thrown out every year.1 In some places, people receive more than one directory at the same time. In these cases different companies are printing pretty much the same information and distributing it to the same overlapping geographic area and end users. Yet again, this solidifies a purposeless practice.

The frequency of the printing needs to remain constant too. These phonebooks go out of date almost as soon as they end up piling up at people’s front doors. This is assuming the company actually does update their directories, and doesn’t use this as an excuse to charge yet again for advertising. Such blatant disregard for the material’s origin leads to up to 5 million more trees getting cut down every year. Claudia Thompson wrote in her book Recycled Papers: The Essential Guide that an estimate for how many trees are needed to make a ton of paper was calculated by Tom Soder. At the time he was a graduate student in the Pulp and Paper Technology Program at the University of Maine. Soder figured that, if a mixture of both softwoods and hardwoods 40 feet tall and 6-8 inches in diameter were used, it would take an average of 24 trees to produce a single ton of printing and writing paper. This was assuming the kraft chemical pulping process was used.2 If you remember our number from earlier, that equates to 15,840,000 trees just for phone books alone.

Regardless of whether the 16 million trees used to make phonebooks get recycled or repurposed, the actual process of printing and distributing is still a burden on the system. Local governments and ratepayers get the back end of all that production. Someone has to foot the bill and if they can get away with it, it’s not going to be the phone companies.

The biggest issue come at the fact at all this information is available online through online directories, social networks, and mobile phone apps. A huge percentage of people use these tools instead or would rather just not receive all those phone books. The online phone book has a number of other advantages besides saving the equivalent of 660 Central Parks from the paper mill. These online directories can be updated much faster and have the ability to be searched through by either name or number.

There is not any kind of government regulation for the forcibly delivered yellow and white pages that make their way to your property every year. Companies are starting to realize that there is a polarization towards the use of online directories and eco-friendly lifestyles. The Yellow Pages Association has created an opt-out page for their customers to use and has had a comparable web version of their service for quite awhile now. But more needs to be done. Awareness is key, hopefully government regulation will change these overly wasteful practices in the future. Call your phone company and ask to be taken of the distribution list.

Cited Sources:

  1. ProductStewardshipInstitute.us; “Phone Books”
  2. Conserveatree.com; Environmental Issues “Trees into Paper”

Written by Jon Ryan of ReversePhoneLookup.com, a site helping users to lookup the owners of phone numbers.

Looking for more eco-friendly personal care products? We’ve got ’em… from brands like Nature’s Gate, Giovanni, Dr. Bronner’s, and Aura Cacia.

Image credit: monkeyatlarge at Flickr under a Creative Commons license

  1. Robin

    I don’t think the phone book should be “opt in” because I think the very people that still use a phone book – mainly older people that aren’t comfortable or interested in technology won’t know how or that they should “opt in.” I do, however, think that every phone book service should be required to allow anyone that wants to “opt out” to do so easily and actually honor the “opt out” request. I’ve gone through the process of opting out several times, yet they still arrive.

  2. Joe Mohr

    I agree that it should be opt in. In regards to Robin’s point, once the older set do not get their new phone book I’m sure they’ll be able to contact someone to get on the opt in list. Is their an opt-in ad in the actual book 🙂

    Besides, if they were to miss one or two editions, how much does it change?

    On another note, my 4 year old daughter takes ours and colors in and draws on each page. Each page! She loves the phone books. Most of our family is giving her theirs for christmas 🙂
    THe other day we had an HVAC repair guy over and she saw his truck and recognized the logo from “HER BOOK” the yellow pages. “He’s in my book daddy!”

    This is the BEST way to use the book…


  3. Nate

    Totally agreed that it should be opt-in, but it is too large of a cash cow for the phone companies for them to switch to that model. I wrote a post on opting out of the yellow pages recently. I was SHOCKED when I did my research for it. There are many, many sites out there that talk about this issue and on almost all of them, there are comments from people representing the phone companies blasting the author. They are defending their domain with vigilance.

    Nevertheless, you can opt-out. Whether or not the phone companies, and the companies they hire to deliver their books, honor your opt-out choice is another matter. There are many stories from around the Web about people who have opted out still receiving phone books, just like Robin.


  4. Brian Williams

    An opt-in system is necessary for this industry. The massive amount of waste created is unnecessary and unacceptable, and then society is left to pay the cost for the waste and recycling of all of the unwanted books. Every study I have read shows that the majority of people do not use a phone book, so why are they still mass distributed? It is only a matter of time before we move to the opt-in system, and publishers are simply trying to hold on as long as possible.

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