City of Seattle Rethinking Phone Book Distribution

Seattle Councilmember Mike O'Brien photographs phone books dropped off by Dex at his office on June 23. He has also put a call out to Seattle residents to bring unwanted phone books to his office. Photo:

The telephone directory industry has taken a lot of heat in recent years as the era of Google and mobile applications has made location and service searches faster and more convenient.

The latest in a string of cities and states to consider legislation regarding telephone directories, specifically yellow pages, is the City of Seattle. Announced last week, the City is considering an ordinance which would limit phone book distribution.

The City is considering two approaches: The first would take an opt-out approach through a nonprofit called CatalogChoice, a service allowing residents to sign up and opt-out of direct mail and unwanted phone book delivery.

The second would charge directory publishers for phone books that end up in recycle bins, passing the financial burden of unwanted phone books to the manufacturers rather than the City.

Between 5 and 13 pounds of phone books are delivered per resident every year, representing an additional 1,300 tons of waste at a cost of $190,000 per year to the City, according to Seattle Councilmember Mike O’Brien, an outspoken proponent of the waste reduction effort.

The June 22 Seattle Public Utilities and Neighborhoods Committee meeting provided a followup to the resolution passed by the Council in January, urging the Washington State Legislature to establish a Do Not Mail Registry and directing Seattle Public Services to encourage their customers to use existing commercial mail opt-out services.

The state does require phone companies distribute residential listings, or white pages, to each household, but doesn’t monitor the distribution of yellow pages.

The Yellow Pages Association (YPA), the trade organization of the yellow pages industry, does consider the improvement of phone book distribution to be a priority. The association offers an opt-out service through

City Council President Richard Conlin is considering an eventual shift to an opt-in program that would allow residents who would like a phone book have to sign up for one. However, this ordinance does not push this program.

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Phone Books: To Opt-In or Opt-Out?
The Story of Phone Books

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  1. Thanks Lori for this great information! Receiving the 2 or 3 yellow page directories every year ranks right up there with junk mail in my opinion — unwanted and unnecessary!! Hats off to Seattle for taking the first step. Hopefully the green choice will prevail!!

  2. Thanks for mentioning our site, it’s the only one that allows consumers to go straight to the publishers to reduce or eliminate YP delivery. We believe that it just makes sense to work with the publishers in our indusrty on this issue, rather than expend community resources paying a third party to manage the process. FYI, with over 12 billion look-ups in the YP and 8 out of 10 US consumers still using the books, this is still a great way for businesses to connect with buyers.

  3. Working for a publishing company I field a lot of complaints about the books on a daily basis but I also hear the positive side of it too. I am in my 20’s and I still use the books, I have a copy in my car and in my house, technology will not always be there for you but the printed phone book will. Yes, the electronic version is definitely handy to have but so is the paper book. Not only do 8 out of 10 consumers still use the book but we are not cutting down trees to create the books, they are coming from left over product such as saw dust and 2×4’s that were not able to be fully used when building a new home. On top of using recycled product the books are 100% recyclable. It’s the consumers choice on how they handle receiving and disposing of the books but I hear on a daily basis “I’m just going to throw this book in the trash, it is useless to me, you are killing trees.” Throwing the book in the trash isn’t the most eco friendly decision, if you don’t want the book opt out and recycle it but why make it a hassle for the 80% of consumers to have to “opt in” to receiving the book when they are the majority?

  4. Good info. But if the city is looking at cutting printing costs and saving paper, why not begin making a download-able CSV or PDF version of the phone book? It seems it would only make sense and be easier for those computer-using residents. Just a thought.

  5. @SHobbs Is that 12 billion look-ups per year or per month? Google serves up over 62 billion searches per month and continues to grow. Realize the Yellow Pages and similar directories are soon going to be a relic of the past, especially as the mobile/smart phone industry grows. What we are going to need is an eco-friendly phone as we begin dumping them for the latest models.

  6. @Chelsea 8 out of 10 still use the book? I just asked ten of my friends and they all laughed–your statistics are wrong. Also, despite the “no trees” felled for the creation of YP’s, the manufacturing costs energy, the deliver of the books costs energy and the recycling of the books costs energy. A real loss for the environment for an antiquated device.

    Also, the YP’s have no search capability–you either spell (or know) the name and find it… Or, you don’t and won’t find it.

  7. Very conveniently not addressed by phone book industry employees @Chelsea and @SHobbs is the fact that not making unwanted phone books in the first place is the logical way to prevent waste. What a joke – “the books are 100% recyclable!. Recycling a product that was never wanted in the first place is no solution. In fact, it’s just round two of yet more waste – transport (carbon emissions), energy waste, water waste, chemical usage, etc. And as for expending community resources, an opt-in costs no community anything, except for enforcement. It’s not the business of the community to have to clean up phone book littering, which is what every unwanted phone book is. It’s the job of the phone book industry to find out who wants their product. It’s not up to the majority of us who hate the things to do your work for you. And there is no way that 8 out of 10 Seattleites still use these dinosaurs. For the record, Chelsea, you are the first person in their 20’s I’ve EVER heard say they use a phone book! Your industry is going down becuase it is stands on creating waste. You’ve actually made a great point about how it’s not fair to the majority to have to make the move. I agree. In Seattle the majority clearly hates phone books – follow the news.

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