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Phone Books

The Problem

Telephone directories generate clutter, while straining environmental resources and burdening taxpayer-funded recycling and waste management programs. While consumers increasingly turn to online search engines and digital directories for phone numbers, publishers continue to produce and deliver printed phone books to U.S. residences unprompted, using an estimated 4.68 million trees worth of wood fiber annually, or 14 football fields’ worth of forest every day. Yet, in 2009 (the last year the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency provided data on phone book recycling), only 37% of all phone books were recycled. Instead, 410,000 tons of directories went to landfills or incinerators, at a cost of about $60 million to local governments (and taxpayers) nationwide.

A Solution

Publishers and citizens can take action to ensure sustainable phone book production, distribution, and end-of-life management. In 2015, PSI took a step to encourage corporate environmental responsibility by issuing a phone book report card and fact sheet that outline best practices and evaluate publishers’ actions in three key areas:

1.   Reducing distribution through opt-in or opt-out programs
2.   Using sustainably sourced paper and ink
3.   Providing financial support for directory recycling 


If you opt out, but still receive a phone book next year, contact the publisher.

Opt-in programs ensure that phone books are only delivered to residents that want them, reducing unnecessary paper use.

Opt-out programs allow residents to choose not to receive a phone book. While not as effective as opt-in programs (because residents have to actively pursue opt-out to not receive a phone book, whereas with opt-in this happens automatically), opt-out programs also reduce paper consumption.

In 2007, PSI engaged phone directory publishers in a series of meetings to develop environmental, social, and economic best practices. In response to this collaborative effort, the phone book industry group, Local Search Association (LSA) developed an industry-wide opt-out system. Today, all major yellow pages publishers provide residents with the opportunity to opt out, and accept third-party opt-outs through Catalog Choice

After several years of successful collaboration, however, the industry’s efforts lagged, and ultimately fell short of government expectations. In 2010, Seattle, Washington legislated the first city-managed yellow pages opt-out system, and in 2011 San Francisco passed the nation’s first opt-in ordinance. In 2012, however, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Seattle’s ordinance, ruling that phone books are protected under free speech. As a result, San Francisco suspended its opt-in ordinance.

Using sustainably sourced paper and ink can reduce the environmental impact of phone book production. The use of recycled content and credible forestry certified paper limits forest degradation, biodiversity loss, climate change, and water and air pollution. Vegetable-based 100% non-petroleum printing inks are a safe, environmentally-friendly alternative to inks that contain heavy metals and volatile organic compounds.

Providing financial support for directory recycling reduces the costs that local governments have to pay to recycle or dispose of phone books. By providing financial support for recycling, including sponsoring take-back programs, publishers can reduce the large financial burden on local governments while keeping phone books out of the waste stream.

Helpful Resources:


PSI’s Role in Delivering Solutions

Advocates for product stewardship programs

PSI advocates for voluntary and mandated product stewardship initiatives for phone books, including ordinances to promote opt-out and opt-in programs.

In 2008 and 2009, PSI brought national attention to the issue of phone books sustainability, engaging industry stakeholders in a dialogue that led yellow pages trade groups to implement an opt-out system and sign a sustainability platform. PSI helped Seattle and San Francisco develop their opt-out and opt-in ordinances, and helped states craft legislation on opt-out. In 2015, PSI sent a petition to publishers, which – with the support of more than 5,400 residents – called for greater transparency and corporate environmental responsibility.

PSI continues to seek opportunities to work with the industry to create programs and solutions that reduce the environmental impact of phone book production and end-of-life management.

We provide exclusive resources for PSI Members and Partners including model language, support for passing opt-out/opt-in ordinances, strategies for reducing phone book use, and lobbying of state utility commissions to remove white pages distribution requirements – login or  learn more.

Conducts research

PSI explores the environmental impacts of phone books to inform and shape product stewardship policy. In 2006 and 2007, for instance, we conducted research to lay out the problems, goals, barriers, and solutions related to phone book management at end-of-life, leading to the development of our Action Plan for Phone Books. Subsequent research highlighted sustainability best practices, which we used to encourage further industry action, including implementing a user-friendly opt-out system. In 2014 and 2015 we conducted qualitative research on major yellow pages publishers in the US. Our resulting 2014 and 2015 Sustainability Report Cards draw from this research to establish best practices for sustainable phone book production, distribution, and end-of-life management, and benchmark the achievements of yellow pages companies against these standards.

Promotes awareness and use of existing opt-out solutions

PSI provides resources for residents, governments, environmental groups, and other stakeholders that highlight the environmental impacts of phone book production and raise awareness of opt-out programs.


For more information, please contact Megan Byers at (617) 236-4866. 


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