Councilmember O'Brien left office on December 31, 2019. This website is for archival purposes only and is no longer updated.

Phonebooks: Good or Bad?

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Phonebooks for the legislative department

Yesterday at the Seattle Public Utilities and Neighborhood committee meeting we had a great discussion about waste reduction following up on a resolution that Council passed in January asking the state to better regulate junk mail. We also discussed new ideas on how the city might want to reduce the number of phone books that end up in the waste stream, if it decided to do so. Junk mail in the city is estimated to generate over 15,000 tons of waste annually, and even if it is all recycled, still costs us over $2 million to dispose.  Yellow Pages are estimated to generate an additional 1300 tons of waste at a cost of $190,000 per year to the city.  The discussion around phone books was quite engaging and followed a number of passionate public comments encouraging us to take a hard look at yellow pages. 

As if on cue, phonebooks started arriving today.  This morning my aide brought in a Verizon SuperPages Yellow Pages that was mailed to her yesterday.  (I am curious how much it cost SuperPages to mail a 2lb. 13oz phone book.)  Then this afternoon at work, Dex dropped off 42 copies of their Yellow Pages and 48 copies of the White Pages.  I will be tracking to see how many people here actually pick-up books.

So what do we do next? I’ve decided to take up a collection.  If you receive unwanted phone books, I encourage you to bring them down to city hall and drop them off for my office, and I will store them here as we ponder what to do next.  It would be even better if you attached a brief story about your unwanted phone books:  Do you not use Yellow Pages at all?  Do you use Yellow Pages, but feel you can go without multiple copies?  Do you have a favorite brand?  What steps have you taken previously to stop receiving phonebooks and did it work? Or maybe you feel the existing phonebook system works well for you? If you don’t want to lug your unwanted yellow pages into city hall but have a story to share, please post it here.

As we continue to formulate our policies on reducing waste, I look forward to hearing from you.


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Comment from Bryan Harrison
Time July 14, 2010 at 6:54 pm

I’m on the Board of a condominium at 1111 East John Street. Once a year these companies trespass in order to dump this trash on our doorsteps. None of our owners want these books – we have a wondrous thing we call the internet that has long since rendered this stupidity obsolete. Everyone here resents it, and the mess end up in the recycling bin.

Last year I caught their delivery people in the act, and politely asked them to take the trash elsewhere. They refused, saying they would “get in trouble.” They continued dumping the damned books at our doors while I followed them, saying “Please stop. Please don’t do that. No one wants those. You are trespassing. You are littering.” all to no avail.

Dex refuses to remove them, recommending that we put them in the recycling bin. It’s obscene.

Comment from Sean Carlson
Time July 14, 2010 at 9:50 pm

I own a small apartment building (4 units) on Cap. Hill and I routinely get a pile — usually about 8 — of completely unwanted phone books on my front porch every year. I have done everything I can to stop this including spending hours over the years talking to Dex and their delivery people. Nothing slows them down. It is an outrageous waste and I consider it littering and tresspassing that they should continue this practice, so I applaud loudly this effort. I don’t even use them any more, and apparently neither does anyone in my building. This benefits the Y.Pages industry only and is a complete waste of paper. Next stop: can we do something about the proliferation of “A boards” aka sandwich boards all over the city’s sidewalks? The city tells me a guy used to do this but he retired. I will volunteer if given the authority to remove those that are not legally placed.

Comment from Margaret
Time July 15, 2010 at 4:28 pm

The other day as I was riding home from work, the bus passed several vans full of phone books being delivered to unsuspecting residents. When I got off I hightailed it home to try and cut them off at the front door. Too late. There they were – two massive, obsolete, and unsolicited phone books sitting there staring back at me. I’ve tried the opt-out with mixed results. If you are fortunate enough to find publishers information anywhere on these tomes, you then have to hope that they have an option to stop future delivery. (Incidentally, the opt-out is not for perpetuity but for a mere three or four years.)
Why are we allowing this? From the response to councilman O’Brien’s request I’m not the only one who is more than annoyed with this practice. Is a city or county ordinance banning unsolicited commercial publications beyond the capacity of voters or council members? How about funds to hire a few semis that would truck the unwanted phone books back to the point of origin – or better yet, the CEO’s home.

Comment from Julie
Time July 17, 2010 at 4:26 pm

Why is this littering a free-speech issue? If I want to dump a pile of paper on my neighbor’s doorstep, do I have a “free-speech” right to do it? Don’t let the phone book company lobbyists bamboozle you!

As to the lobbyists being “willing to consider” and “advance recovery fee”–who are they to be “wiling to consider” anything? Aren’t we in charge, here?

Comment from Jason
Time August 17, 2010 at 7:22 pm

What about the 23 million references to phone books in Pierce County this last year? All the metered (tracked calls) that were made. People are still using the book as well as internet. Just like a council member to try and figure out how we can eliminate jobs in these tough times. What about all the waste that comes via junk mail? That is nothing compared to a product that actually gets used.

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