City of Seattle Rethinking Phone Book Distribution

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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: Seattle.gov

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 YellowPagesoptout.com.

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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