Sustainability | Ecotrope

Ending a 132-year-old tradition: The phone book

Ecotrope | Jan. 20, 2011 4:08 a.m. | Updated: Feb. 19, 2013 1:42 p.m.

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How many of the phone books delivered to your house wind up looking like this – before they make their way into the garbage heap? More and more states are considering eliminating the 132-year-old rule that phone companies have to deliver paper phone books.

How many of the phone books delivered to your house wind up looking like this – before they make their way into the garbage heap? More and more states are considering eliminating the 132-year-old rule that phone companies have to deliver paper phone books.

Oregon Field Guide producer Ed Jahn is excited to hear that a 132-year-old tradition may be on its last legs: Door-to-door phone book delivery.

A new study found the majority of American adults:

- don’t use the phone book

- don’t recycle it

- don’t want it automatically delivered; and

- prefer to go online to find contact information

Jahn said he’s signed every petition to get his name off delivery lists, but they still arrive unsolicited at his doorstep. When he caught the last delivery guy in the act, he went so far as to chase the man down to give the phone book back.

“I swear he was running away from me,” Jahn told me this morning. “Like he didn’t want to take it back.”

Some states are OK with eliminating the residential phone books. Verizon has gotten regulators in five states on board with its campaign to quit delivering these unwanted paperbacks, but in December the state of Maryland denied the company’s request to eliminate the books. WhitePages itself has a campaign to ban the paper books, and commissioned the recent Harris Interactive study, which found 87 percent of those polled would prefer opt-in phone book delivery.

Anti-phone book campaigns say the books put 165,000 tons of paper into landfills, require 5 million trees and cost taxpayers $17 million. The fact that phone companies themselves are the ones asking for relief points to cost savings on their end too.

I think this ties in with a discussion we had earlier about the Securities and Exchange Commission’s decision to make paper deliveries of investors’ mutual fund reports optional. Some are adamant about using paper to keep land in forestry – and out of development. But printing things on paper that nobody wants or needs and expending the energy to delivery them all over the country? Probably not the best way to save forestland. Maybe as more states ban plastic bags, the paper bags people wind up using instead will offset the lost demand for paper products like semi-annual reports and residential phone books.

Since 2007, 15 states have either granted permission to quit printing residential listings or have requests pending. Oregon is not on the list. When was the last time you used a phone book?

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