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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Seattle Might Get Aggressive About Phone Books

Posted by on Wed, Jun 23, 2010 at 5:26 PM

Seattle might soon start cracking down on unwanted phone books in the city. There is currently a debate over whether Seattle should adopt an opt-in policy—which would deliver phone books to only those who requested them—or an opt-out policy that requires people to tell the phone companies not to deliver the White or Yellow Pages.

At a meeting Tuesday, the Seattle Public Utilities and Neighborhoods Committee asked city officials to explore an opt-out plan for Yellow Pages and junk mail next year. But the committee also signaled support for an opt-in approach toward the end of the meeting, noting that it may not be legal. The committee directed Seattle Public Utilities—which presented a report on reducing junk mail and unwanted phone books—to investigate the legal ramifications for crafting potential legislation this summer.

A number of people from Zero Waste Seattle spoke in support of an opt-in policy. Getting rid of unwanted junk mail and phone book directories falls among the Seattle City Council’s zero waste goals this year, having already banned Styrofoam service-ware and approved compost bins for food scraps in the city.

The enhanced opt-out strategy would see the city enter into a contract with CatalogChoice, a non-profit which would re-route web traffic from the city and King County websites to its own website, where people will be able to pick the phone books, catalogs, and mail listings they don't want. There could also be a city ordinance requiring phone book publishers to honor opt-out requests. “One of the main advantages of CatalogChoice is that it provides data on opt-outs showing waste tonnage avoided,” said Dick Lily of SPU. CatalogChoice also boasts the largest number of mail and phone book distributors, almost double that of the Direct Marketing Association. “It’s one-stop shopping,” Lily said.

The disadvantage: It will cost the city $10,000 to set up the online program and $20,500 in operating costs annually, including $10,500 for publicity.

According to a 2008 USPS Household Survey, junk mail accounts for nearly 100 pounds of paper disposed or recycled per household annually. Another source lists 41 pounds for every American adult every year. CatalogChoice puts the number of phone books at 12 to 13 pounds per household per year. Research carried out by SPU shows Seattle’s approximately 275,000 households generate 15,125 tons of paper from junk mail and phone books. The cost to ratepayers, If it was all recycled at a net $140 per ton, would be around $2 million, or almost $8 per household, Lily said.

Although most phone book companies offer opt-out services, many people complain they don’t work. “We have seen their level of inefficiency—opt out doesn’t necessarily lead to no phone book on your front porch next year,” Lily said. Despite the advent of Internet advertising, the Yellow Pages Association remains adamant that the phone book industry is not shrinking. “We may overrate Internet use, there may be families using phone books, or they may be more in use in rural areas," Lily said.

More after the jump.

Phone book publishers argue that requiring people to request phone books will harm local businesses that advertise in the Yellow Pages. SPU suggested other strategies for getting rid of unused junk mail and phone books, including promoting only free opt-out services, requiring by law that Yellow Pages provide opt-out services, and establish a fee for phone book publishers.

“The phone book companies are trying to do an opt-in for White Pages, so why not Yellow Pages?” asked Heather Trim of Zero Waste Seattle, which recently launched an opt in campaign and opposes the contract with Catalog Choice.

SPU Director Tim Kroll said that although an opt-in program would be the most effective, it was his “implementer’s conservatism” that was keeping him from recommending it. Kroll said with opt-in, he was unsure what the city’s role “as an enforcer would be.”

“We are just saying we could start out with opt-out and see how it goes—we are flexible,” Kroll said.

City council member Mike O’Brien, who chairs the SPU and Neighborhoods Committee, said he was interested in learning more about the option of charging an advanced recovery fee for every phone book delivered in the city. The money generated from this would go toward the city’s zero-waste fund. SPU will return to the City Council with more information on an opt-in policy and an advance recovery fee by the end of the month.


Comments (21) RSS

Newest First Unregistered On Registered On Add a comment
Great idea! I'm putting out the word to all my contacts now to save their phone books, and once I get a nice little (or enormous) stack of books, they're off to City Council for their day of reckoning. Thanks for the heads up on this. I'm really glad we have a City Council that actually cares about the environment and has the guts to take action, especially on a no-brainer like this one.
Posted by WorldShifting on June 25, 2010 at 12:19 PM · Report this
Hi all,

Let's overwhelm Councilmember Mike O'Brien with books! Here is his blog inviting us to deluge him with unwanted phonebooks:

Phonebooks: Good or Bad?
Yesterday at the Seattle Public Utilities and Neighborhood committee meeting we had a great discussion about waste reduction following up on a resolution that Council passed in January asking the state to better regulate junk mail. We also discussed new ideas on how the city might want to reduce the number of phone books that end up in the waste stream, if it decided to do so. Junk mail in the city is estimated to generate over 15,000 tons of waste annually, and even if it is all recycled, still costs us over $2 million to dispose. Yellow Pages are estimated to generate an additional 1300 tons of waste at a cost of $190,000 per year to the city. The discussion around phone books was quite engaging and followed a number of passionate public comments encouraging us to take a hard look at yellow pages.

As if on cue, phonebooks started arriving today. This morning my aide brought in a Verizon SuperPages Yellow Pages that was mailed to her yesterday. (I am curious how much it cost SuperPages to mail a 2lb. 13oz phone book.) Then this afternoon at work, Dex dropped off 42 copies of their Yellow Pages and 48 copies of the White Pages. I will be tracking to see how many people here actually pick-up books.

So what do we do next? I’ve decided to take up a collection. If you receive unwanted phone books, I encourage you to bring them down to city hall and drop them off for my office, and I will store them here as we ponder what to do next. It would be even better if you attached a brief story about your unwanted phone books: Do you not use Yellow Pages at all? Do you use Yellow Pages, but feel you can go without multiple copies? Do you have a favorite brand? What steps have you taken previously to stop receiving phonebooks and did it work? Or maybe you feel the existing phonebook system works well for you? If you don’t want to lug your unwanted yellow pages into city hall but have a story to share, please post it here.
As we continue to formulate our policies on reducing waste, I look forward to hearing from you.…


Posted by HTzerowaste on June 24, 2010 at 10:07 PM · Report this
What's the problem with Opt-Out? IT"S NOT MY FUCKING CHORE to spend the 10-15 minutes it takes to inform all three phone book distributors in my area that I no longer care to be dumped on. It's THEIR job to find out who wants their product. Let those who benefit from the books, i.e., those who actually use them, ASK for them. It's worth their time to ask to have something they want delivered to their front door for free. It's not my job to clean up after an out of control waste-for-profit industry.

I'd like to see some reputable stats on actual phone book usage in Seattle. The Yellow Pages Association (the trade organization for the $30-plus billion a year directory industry) claims that half of all adults in the U.S. reference a phone book once a week. What?! Where did they do their sampling? A phone booth in a Daytona Beach jail? Sampled out of the bank account of the industry trade organization that commissioned the studies? Where are all these adults with their handy, well-thumbed yellow pages directories? How come virtually none of us know these people? Surely they're not all holed up in a barn in Enumclaw somewhere referencing and cross-referencing their indispensible copies of Dex, Verizon and SuperYellowPages. If actual usage rates were known, advertisers would be pulling out in droves.

Oh, and BTW, for you phone book industry hacks who are being paid to monitor the Seattle press around this scary clean up ordinance, you see that the public overwhelmingly hates your garbage. Only to the minority who still use phone books are you creating anything of value. You're screwing the advertisers you claim to care passionately about because you're lying to them about the numbers of people you reach.

Opt-out is a joke. Take care of your own damn mess and quit dumping on our city. It's YOUR job to find out where your product is wanted, it's not the job of the majority to do your reconnaissance work for you.

Posted by WorldShifting on June 24, 2010 at 6:37 PM · Report this
NaFun 18
@14 There are a lot of folks in city government, and most of them can multi-task. The city could save a million or more in recycling costs, ease a headache for nearly everyone in the city, AND put an end to a stupid, wasteful practice all at the same time, and that sounds like a fine line item for the city to add to their to-do list.
Posted by NaFun on June 24, 2010 at 4:51 PM · Report this
T 17
In the building I live in (8 units), I've never seen a single phone book taken from the pile that gets delivered. The building I lived in before (30+ units), there were 4 books taken at most from each delivery. Opt-in is the way to go.

@3 Try using Google Maps. It'll map local shops out for you and everything. Yellow Pages and Dex also have their own websites with (presumably) most/all of the same info found in the physical Yellow Pages.
Posted by T on June 24, 2010 at 1:31 PM · Report this
Either way we're paying to stop their "service." I mean, what if someone started leaving pig heads on everyone's doorstep? Would the city have to set up a program to stop that as well? We are definitely in the rabbit hole here Batman.
Posted by LiberatusQuirkus on June 24, 2010 at 9:29 AM · Report this
Joe Szilagyi 15
@14 how much money does Seattle have to pay to clean up all this advertising shit?

Posted by Joe Szilagyi on June 24, 2010 at 8:16 AM · Report this
Of all the issues the City of Seattle should be tackling right about now, isn't unwanted phonebooks at or near the least important?

We've moved beyond circus animals so now we confront phone books? No wonder people have so little confidence in City Hall.
Posted by Citizen R on June 24, 2010 at 7:38 AM · Report this
Max Solomon 13
if recycling was charged by weight they'd disappear tonight
Posted by Max Solomon on June 24, 2010 at 7:31 AM · Report this
They already have opt-out phone numbers and forms on their websites. However, anecdotal evidence says that they disregard opt-out requests.

I recently opted out of all directory deliveries. Now I'll just wait and see what comes, and what doesn't.

And yeah, the phone book companies don't want this because they need huge distribution numbers to justify their rates. If even half the city stops getting phone books, advertising in the yellow pages looks a lot worse on paper. Less businesses will do it.
Posted by Lack Thereof on June 23, 2010 at 10:50 PM · Report this
Reverse Polarity 11
Printing phone books is like printing money. It is extremely profitable.

But in order to justify ridiculously high rates for tiny little ads, they have to tell business owners that they deliver 80 bazillion phone books to local residents. If they only delivered 100 phone books, they couldn't justify their ad rates to businesses.

So expect Qwest/Verizon/whatever (I get at least 3 different yellow pages books every year!?!) to fight this tooth an nail. An opt-in system would kill their business.
Posted by Reverse Polarity on June 23, 2010 at 10:00 PM · Report this
Amnt 10
What did I find outside my door this evening after reading this post? A fucking phonebook.
Posted by Amnt on June 23, 2010 at 8:29 PM · Report this
google maps is the best.

but seriously, the argument that rural areas still need it is laughable. this is city of seattle, not king effing county or beyond...
Posted by holz on June 23, 2010 at 8:27 PM · Report this
Banna 8
@3: next time, type "junkyards near Seattle" into Google maps instead of vanilla Google. Maps is much better for local information.
Posted by Banna on June 23, 2010 at 8:07 PM · Report this
Banna 7
This will probably be handled as an "opt out", just like the telemarketing and junk mail lists. I'm sure companies will argue that "opt in" violates their free speech or something; they have a right to give you phone books unless you specifically say you don't want one.
Posted by Banna on June 23, 2010 at 8:03 PM · Report this
vooodooo84 6
Rural areas? thats their argument? There are no fucking "rural" areas in Seattle
Posted by vooodooo84 on June 23, 2010 at 7:41 PM · Report this
Now, if the City would only ban the use of styrofoam meat trays, I'd be able to reduce my non-recyclable waste down to just about zero.
Posted by COMTE on June 23, 2010 at 7:12 PM · Report this
Maverick Biceps 4
Next thing you know they'll stop delivering milk and ice for my icebox
Posted by Maverick Biceps on June 23, 2010 at 7:03 PM · Report this
Dr_Awesome 3
You know, I've tried to depend only on teh intarwebs to find phone numbers and addresses for LOCAL businesses... but you fucking try to google something anymore and get anything near 20% relevance.

At least with the phone book, annoying and bulky as it is, if I turn to the "Auto- Parts, New and Used" section I get the addresses and phone numbers of the LOCAL, IN MY STATE and maybe MY LOCAL TOWN junkyards.

Google for, say, "Car parts, used, Seattle" (or some variation) and you get eighty bajillion spam sites that have seeded their pages with so many key words that any real, useful hit is buried seven pages down.

So as much as I hate it, I do use the phone book once in a while.
Posted by Dr_Awesome on June 23, 2010 at 6:44 PM · Report this
Super Jesse 2
Since I imagine the overwhelming majority of people probably don't want phone books it seems like it would be easier to implement an opt-in system instead of being completely slammed by millions of out-out requests.
Posted by Super Jesse on June 23, 2010 at 5:50 PM · Report this
passionate_jus 1
The only real solution is an opt-in program. Any other approach is a joke.
Posted by passionate_jus on June 23, 2010 at 5:41 PM · Report this

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