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Say No To The Massive Burden of Phonebooks

September 29th, 2010 · 2 Comments

Nothing exemplifies avoidable waste more than phone books do. Let’s say no to the massive burden of phonebooks and the burden they impose on the environment

phonebooks in a recycling bin

I saw this picture of phone books in a recycling bin on Flickr the other day and the guy who took the picture, Alan Levine, had this to say:

“Can you believe in this age of dwindling natural resources and internet based information, that we get dumped on our door step at least 7 different phonebooks, a pile 22 inches high? I’ve not flipped through a paper phone book in 4 years. The waste is shameful and stupid.”

I agree. Nothing exemplifies avoidable waste more than phone books do. These are huge chunks of paper delivered to our doorsteps every year, most of which are almost certainly trashed or recycled the day they arrive. In this day and age, when broadsheets like the New York Times are losing their traditional subscribers and are frantically exploring online possibilities, phone books are a throwback to an age when our grandparents were still reading the almanacs to predict the weather or read the funny pages to have some fun.

Obviously, some people continue to use these massive tomes to order pizza or to find a plumber. Otherwise, local businesses will not continue advertising on these books and the yellow pages industry will not see the kind of phenomenal growth they’ve been experiencing lately ($17 billion in revenues in 2009).

But, the way I see it, this market will continue to shrink as more and more people are turning to the internet as their primary source of information about products and services that they need. In the meantime, the publishing companies continue to print and send tons and tons of phone books to an audience that increasingly use these volumes as…well, furniture support maybe or for some papier-mâché school project – anything other than as phone books.

Just how many thousands of these useless books are produced and wasted every year – putting a huge burden on forest and water resources and forcing U.S. tax payers to pay for the recycling or landfilling of these phone books?

650,000 Tons of Phone Books Wasted Every Year!

According to Pablo Päster, a greenhouse gas engineer and columnist at Treehugger.com, approximately 650,000 tons of phone books are distributed in the United States every year:

“Annually an estimated 650,000 tons of phone books are distributed to America’s 100+ million households. At an EPA estimated national recycling rate of 18%, only 117,000 tons of phone books are recycled each year, many of them on the day that they are received. Product Stewardship Institute estimates that it costs between $50 and $75 per ton to recycle phone books and between $75 and $100 to dispose of them in a landfill. So annually we spend between $45 and $62 million just to get rid of unwanted or old phone books, or $0.45-0.60 per household.”

The financial burden that phone book companies impose on the rest of us is heavy enough, but the environmental impact of printing and transporting 650,000 tons of phone books every year is simply nauseating. Mr. Päster explains:

“The greenhouse gas emissions from producing 650,000 tons of paper are staggering, 1,474,000 metric tons of CO2-equivalents! By comparison the greenhouse gas emissions of the entire Walt Disney Corporation in 2006 were 1,649,717 tons of CO2-equivalents. In addition to the greenhouse gas emissions, the production of 650,000 tons of paper also require the use of 44.2 billion liters of water. Of course there are many more impacts from the production of paper which are not easily quantified, like the loss of forest, the eutrofication of rivers, etc.”

I’m not advocating for an outright ban of phone books – that would not be fair to the few people who continue to use them. But, I’m still convinced that phone books are a massive, artificial, and entirely avoidable burden on society. It’s time we start to do something about this waste.

The ideal solution is to give people the chance to opt-out of receiving their useless and unwanted copies of these books and then…do a media blitz to make people aware that they have the option to say no to phone books. Make the people who opt-in and continue to use them (even with this thing called the internet) to pay for their copies. Paying any amount for something they’ve been accustomed to receive as a free service for so long, I’m sure would jolt some people out of lethargy.

What’s your opinion about this? Am I wrong to assume that phone books are obsolete in the digital age and phone book users are a shrinking minority? Your comments and feedback will be most appreciated.

People are already taking action. If you want to opt-out of receiving phone books (Minnesota residents only), sign a petition, find out more about phone book recycling, or simply learn more about this issue, you might want to check out the following sites:

Don’t Trash the Phone Book
Ban the Phone Book
Say No To Phonebooks
Yellow Pages Opt-Out

Photo Credit: Cogdogblog on Flickr

Tags: Environment

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Vinyl Banners // Sep 30, 2010 at 8:08 am

    I am always shocked when they dump new phone books. If people want to use them, they should be able to call and request on or pick one up at the grocery store… Unbelievably wasteful.

  • 2 Seattle Stops Yellow Pages Phone Books Waste | Pacebutler Recycling Blog // Oct 31, 2010 at 8:02 pm

    […] September, we wrote about the completely avoidable waste problem posed by unwanted phone books delivered by competing companies to our doorsteps, every year. […]