Phone Book Litter Banned in Seattle, Nation's First Opt-Out City

photo phone book spam seattle
Photo: ekohler via Flickr

Phone book litter has been banned in Seattle, Washington. That means no more bulky yellow books in plastic bags on people's doorsteps, unless they want the directories delivered. The ban was passed by the Seattle City Council. The ordinance creates an opt-out system for city residents and requires directory publishers to pay the cost of recycling phone books in the city. Score one for the trees.

When was the last time you picked up a phone book rather than using something like Google or a Yellow Pages app? Maybe it's just me, but it's been a while. Phone books are good to use as booster seats for short folks, maybe, and for demonstrating strength by ripping one in half. But actually, they're pretty much a waste these days. Especially when you receive two competing phone books.

An estimated 2 million directories are distributed per year in Seattle. That's a really tall pile. The Seattle law, a first in the U.S., requires directory pushers, er, publishers to pay the city $148 per ton of books delivered. Seattle officials say phone books make up about 2.7 percent of all materials recycled at the curb each year. Council member Mike O'Brien, who proposed the law, says unwanted yellow pages cost Seattle $350,000 a year in recycling costs.

The opt-out system is to be funded by directory publishers, too, and should be live by July 2011. Make that "may be live." Yellow page publishers have threatened to sue, complaining that the law doesn't apply to other forms of media. The Yellow Pages Association is launching a national opt-out website in 2011, which it says is better than a city-run site.

Great idea, Yellow Pages people, let's create a national directory to opt out of all junk mail. One stop non-shopping.

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