The Story of Phone Books

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 Do you have a stack of outdated editions filling the corner of your garage?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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  1. Brandy:

    Your article has one incorrect item in it — While the popular myth is that this industry is responsible for the neutering of forests, the reality is the Yellow Pages industry doesn’t knock down any trees for its paper!!! Let me repeat that – they don’t need to cut any trees for their paper supply.

    Currently, on average, most publishers are using about 40% recycled material (from the newspapers and magazines you are recycling curbside), and the other 60% comes from wood chips and waste products of the lumber industry. If you take a round tree and make square or rectangular lumber from it, you get plenty of chips and other waste. Those by-products make up the other 60% of the raw material needed. Note that these waste products created in lumber milling would normally end up in landfills. Not only that, as wood chips decompose, they emit methane, a greenhouse gas closely associated with global warming.

    For more information go here:

  2. Brandy,

    Great article! I have been talking about this for a while now also. The old ways of putting out information such as the phone book, business/yellow pages, magazines and newspapers are all going to be cutting back or all online in the not too distant future!

    Keep up the great work and I look forward to reading more great articles from you.


    Rey Ybarra, New Media Expert. Host/Producer of Best Selling Author Television.

  3. Is there a way that you know of to opt out of phone book distribution. When I get mine it doesn’t even make it into the house, it goes right into my recycling bin.

  4. I’m with Beej, though I’d rather that people have to opt *in* to get phone books. The people who deliver them leave stacks of them at apartments and businesses, and they just get soaked in the weather until someone throws them out. I’ll bet half the people who get them don’t use them–what a waste.

  5. Yes Beej & Mike. Yellowbook USA does have an opt out option. You just need to call them for now. Another thing that is so great about yellowbook is that they been around since 1930. That’s what they do and they do keep in touch with the society. Not sure about the other companies. yellowbook seem to always be one step ahead of their industry. Everything that is a concern in the public’s eyes when it comes to printed phone books probably have already been working on the solution. Don’t you think that it is always best to be safe than sorry. If something happens and we all know it does like the power or your cell connection goes down how else will you be able to look things up. Print does not hinge on if we have power or not. Everything else we do or take for granted depends on Cell phones, electricity and the need to be connected. Yes the print usage is going down but there will always be a need for it. Phone books are still the fasted way to look things up when you have a need for something especially when there is an emergency! Some people just don’t have the patients to look on the internet. With the information increasing every second it just make it more confusing. Some are just unwilling to conform. For now I would keep one phone book. The one you recognize the most and recycle the rest. Why else would yellowbook say “Say yellow to the future”. They know what is coming and what is needing to move into the future. In the mean time we all need to take part and recycle not just phone books but everything else as well.

  6. Pingback: Green Buyer’s Guide » Blog Archive » Eco-Facts To Make Al Gore Cry

  7. I want to help my daughter start a drive for the next couple of months to recycle phone books. No place nearby wants them from our county though. If a bin was set up outside of the school I know we could fill it with no problem. I hope to find some recycler to help with this problem and not waste the phone books that will be replaced and carelessly tossed out in teh next few months!:)

  8. Just to add to your knowledge:
    What is the best thing that can happen to surplus stock of phone book, which are excess stock and were not distributed? These are phone books which the distributor is left with after delivering all phone books.
    Our company is involved in buying and exporting such phone books to Third World countries where they reuse the phone book paper, I mean literally reuse the printed paper. They take a full size phone book, trim the glued side of the book, and then they take the printed pages of the book and make paper bags with them. No paper is wasted, no paper is recycled into pulp, but rather reused, extending the life cycle of the paper. In addition these paper bags are made by a lot of women who work from home, so this also generates income for women who cannot leave home.

  9. We currently use recycled store catalogs, newspaper and magazines to make the beads for our ReeMoe bracelets, and are now exploring ways to use old phone books. One average-sized phone book would make enough beads for several hundred bracelets.,

  10. Our problem here in the Butler, Pennsylvania area is that no recyclers that I know of will take telephone books. I would love to recycle them, instead of having to tear them up and burn them. Sure wish these recycle companies would wake up and start accepting telephone books. Several years ago, a local supermarket
    supposedly had a drop-off box; but after taking my books there no box was in sight and I saw several others looking for a place to get rid of their books. I’m sure more directories would be recycled if this service was made readily available to people. It is such a waste of our precious resources. Also, I believe like some of the other comments that we should be able to opt out of receiving them. Why do you need three or four telephone books, when one would be sufficient? Think of all the trees that could be saved!

  11. Hey Brandy,

    Where are some of your estimates coming from? I don’t see any citations. I’m mostly curious on the amount that wind up in the landfills.

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