The Story of Phone Books

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Have you received a new phone book recently? Do you have a stack of outdated editions filling the corner of your garage?

Many people are unaware that phone books are recyclable, and every year 660,000 tons end up in landfills across the country.

To learn more about these prevalent directories and how consumers and the industry are mitigating their environmental impact, Earth911 talked with Yellowbook to get the inside track.

Starting on the Right Foot

The first “phone book” appeared in 1878, shortly following Alexander Graham Bell’s first telephonic transmission in 1876. Originally only one sheet of paper, today’s phone books are some of the largest printed.

Phone books are typically delivered twice each year to millions of American households and businesses. In fact, 540 million telephone directories are distributed each year. This amounts to over 106,000 miles of phone books, enough to wrap the planet 4.28 times. Translation: that’s a lot of paper, ink, transportation and other resources.

Recycling phone books ensure they remain part of the resource stream to become other productsStarting at the source is an easy way to reduce the environmental footprint of these large directories. At Yellowbook, the company holds their “paper and printing suppliers to high standards of environmental accountability, to ensure we publish 100 percent recyclable print directories and reduce our carbon footprint. Specifically at Yellowbook, we work only with paper suppliers that have achieved sustainable forestry and ISO certifications. Our paper suppliers maximize the use of forestry waste and recycled products, using paper comprised of discarded wood chips, pulp and recycled fiber.”

Many companies also employ the use of non- or lower-toxin inks. Yellowbook, for example, uses non-toxic biodegradable soy inks to print their directories.

Sizing Down

Some phone books are also making earth-friendly changes such as reducing their size or using online versions, decreasing the amount of paper needed to deliver the same information to customers.

Phone books also minimize their eco-footprint by reducing the amount of virgin materials they consume. At Yellowbook, the paper used to produce the directories “includes recycled fiber, which is in part made up of recycled phone directories. Approximately 40 percent of the fiber used to produce our directories is recycled fiber, with the balance made up from forestry waste, such as wood chips and pulp.”

Reduce, Reuse…

With the various adjustments the phone book industry is making to be more eco-conscious, it’s still up to consumers to recycle the end product. By recycling only 500 phone books, consumers can save:

  • Between 17 and 31 trees
  • 7,000 gallons of water
  • 463 gallons of oil
  • 587 pounds of carbon emissions
  • 3.06 cubic yards of landfill space
  • 4,077 kWh of energy

Not only can old phone books be recycled into new phone books, but they can also be transformed into seemingly unrelated products. They can also become:

  • Cellulose insulation
  • Organic lawn care products
  • Roofing surfaces
  • Packing material to replace foam peanuts
  • Other paper products, like grocery bags and paper towels

The main consideration you must make when recycling your phone book pertains to the extras often included in them, like magnets and plastics. Some of these are not recyclable and can contaminate the recycling process if not removed.

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