Ask Pablo: What Is The Impact Of All Those Unwanted Phone Books?


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Dear Pablo: I received my annual paper weight phone book today and I couldn't help but wonder about the millions of trees that are wasted each year on the yellow pages.

In deed many of us have no need for the yellow pages (commercial listings) and white pages (residential listings) anymore. We have Blackberries and iPhones, and we have increasing access to the internet via video game consoles and web-enabled appliances, so why would we need this wasteful relic from the past?

Just How Many Phone Books Are Distributed Each Year?

The annual arrival of unwanted phone books has led many to question the massive amount of waste. But what is the actual impact? Annually an estimated 650,000 tons of phone books are distributed to America's 100+ million households. At an EPA estimated national recycling rate of 18%, only 117,000 tons of phone books are recycled each year, many of them on the day that they are received. Product Stewardship Institute estimates that it costs between $50 and $75 per ton to recycle phone books and between $75 and $100 to dispose of them in a landfill. So annually we spend between $45 and $62 million just to get rid of unwanted or old phone books, or $0.45-0.60 per household.

What Is The Environmental Impact Of Phone Books

The greenhouse gas emissions from producing 650,000 tons of paper are staggering, 1,474,000 metric tons of CO2-equivalents! By comparison the greenhouse gas emissions of the entire Walt Disney Corporation in 2006 were 1,649,717 tons of CO2-equivalents. In addition to the greenhouse gas emissions, the production of 650,000 tons of paper also require the use of 44.2 billion liters of water. Of course there are many more impacts from the production of paper which are not easily quantified, like the loss of forest, the eutrofication of rivers, etc.

Can We Abolish Phone Books?

But of course not everyone is as tech savvy as us TreeHuggers so abolishing phone books altogether may not be fair. In fact white pages are required by law in most states. California State Senator Leland Yee (D-San Mateo) is trying to change this by making the white pages "opt-in." The phone book companies don't mind this because the white pages represent a cost, whereas the yellow pages are a major source of advertising revenue, but they are afraid that Senator Yee's legislation may open the door to eliminating the yellow pages too.

What Can I Do Today?

While opting-in to receive your annual phone book is still being debated in the California State Senate you do have another option to make sure that the "Yellow Pages Are Welcome In Your Home". The Yellow Pages Association is making it easier for us to opt-out. Simply visit the website and enter your ZIP code to find more information.Pablo Päster is a weekly columnist for, an experienced greenhouse gas engineer and the Senior Environmental Program Manager at Hara Software. Send your questions to Pablo(at) or submit the via this form and connect to his RSS feed.
More Resource On Phone Books:
Business Card Holder Made From Yellow Pages
Minnesota Pollution Control Agency: Product Stewardship For Telephone Directories
Ban The Phone Book

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