Recycling Mystery: Phone Books

Believe it or not, phone books have an expiration date. People move, businesses open and close, and contact information changes. But one constant remains; the recycling market for your outdated yellow and white pages.

If you’ve been storing up phone books in the garage or receiving more directories than you need, here are some phone book facts to keep in mind.

Making the Grade

The paper used for telephone books falls under the paper grade category of “mixed paper”, which is where you’ll also find paper products such as cereal boxes, greeting cards and magazines. Recycling programs that accept one mixed paper product will usually accept them all, but it’s always a good idea to confirm with your local recycler which paper products are collected.

Paper grades are significant because paper mills use them for sorting materials to ensure the right fiber lengths when making new paper. Because the fibers from phone books are shorter than other paper, directories are often recycled into non-paper products, where fiber length is not as relevant.

Get in the know: Paper Recycling


The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that nearly 72 percent (or 7 million tons) of paper products were diverted from landfills in 2010. However, paper products of all types still accounted for more than 28 percent of our waste, making it the largest material by volume.

Although phone books represent a small percentage of the paper products in the waste stream, directory providers like Dex One are making it easier than ever to reduce that part of your paper trail. Dex One’s Opt-Out Program allows users to customize their directory delivery or opt-out of it altogether.

With so many homes and businesses transitioning to digital directory options, and multiple companies producing and delivering the paper versions, it is not uncommon for books to show up when you don’t need or want them.

“We know 70 percent of adults use print directories every year, but they may also use our digital search alternatives and need fewer directories. Or maybe they use only our digital options and want to opt out completely,” said Maggie Stonecipher, Dex One’s assistant vice president of print, delivery and environmental services.

Dex One is dedicated to offering consumers a choice about available digital options, the directories delivered to them and making sure the directories are recycled.”

By choosing to opt-out of or reduce your delivery, you are not only saving the inconvenience of unwanted books, but also the paper, manufacturing resources and energy used to produce and transport them.

Dex One also contributes to paper reduction by producing directories with smaller dimensions to reduce overall volume and by using at least 20 to 25 percent post-consumer content in their directory paper stock.

Recycle & Reuse

For directories you need to dispose of, there are plenty of recycling options, as well as reuse opportunities around the house.

Explore: Fun With Phone Books

You may be able to toss phone books in your curbside recycling bin, and some communities offer directory collection events around the same time that new phone books are distributed while disposal is top of mind.

To help reduce unnecessary waste, Dex One’s delivery service performs follow up “sweeps” in some markets by returning to areas where books have recently been delivered to pick up those left unclaimed.

The company GreenFiber offers another collection option by operating bins throughout the U.S. for paper drop-off, and phone books are one of the materials accepted in these bins. Utilizing these drop-off sites raises money for community programs and the paper is recycled into insulation for residential and commercial buildings.

If your community doesn’t offer phone book recycling, the paper can be shredded and used as brown waste in most compost programs. Most manufacturers use soy or vegetable-based inks, which is common for printing on uncoated paper such as newspapers and directories. You’ll want to remove the cover and spine from the directory if you go this route.

Recycle With Care

It’s important to keep in mind that when a phone book is delivered to your door, there’s often more than just paper. Many phone books come wrapped in plastic to prevent weather damage and may have magnets on the front.

More on This: The Cost of Contamination

When recycling, any non-paper products must be removed to preserve the value of the collected material. While the spine contains adhesives, Earth911 is unaware of any recyclers that require the spine to be removed.

Editor’s Note: Earth911 partners with many industries, manufacturers and organizations to support its Recycling Directory, the largest in the nation, which is provided to consumers at no cost. Dex One is one of these partners.

Feature image courtesy of Jamie

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