City holding phone book recycling program through August 18 …. Who uses them anymore?

According to a post from this past Wednesday on the City of Asheville’s blog, the city is partnering with AT&T and Curbside Management for a phone book recycling drive at each of Asheville’s 11 community centers through August 18. The drive is also a contest between the centers to see who can recycle the most phone books. From the blog post:

It’s the first time the city has conducted this contest, said Wendy Simmons, solid waste manager in the city’s sanitation division.

The winning center will use the money for a community event, according to Charles Lee, program supervisor for the city’s recreation centers.

“Each community has multiple events in which they gather to celebrate the uniqueness of that particular community,” Lee said. “Once a winner is determined, the center director will work with their community advisory board to determine what particular event [the center may have] and how best to use funds.”

All of that sounds great. How many outdated phone books are out there just waiting for the day when some bored soul throws them out after deciding on a whim to do a little spring cleaning? When I was a child, I remember that in my own home we had phone books from four different years scattered in different locations throughout the house at one point. Occasionally we gathered them together to act as an impromptu booster seat or a stepping block for my younger sisters. It was like putting together the various pieces to make Voltron, but instead of a cool robot, all you got was stack of phone books. In short, we could’ve used a phone-book recycling drive at the local community center to help unburden us from our excess directories.

Of course, that was a long time ago. Phone books had a clearly defined purpose in those days, besides being an advertising revenue boon for the phone company. In 2011, who uses phone books anymore? I don’t think I’ve opened one in over a decade now. Like many other people, I haven’t even had a land line in my home for quite some time now. In the age of smartphones and the Internet, who needs a phone book?

My guess would be that phone-book usage is confined largely to the elderly and the poor, and though that’s certainly reason enough to keep printing them, I have to wonder whether or not it’s reason enough to deliver them to every home like in the old days. So while it’s nice to know that the city’s partnering with AT&T to get rid of some of those old and unused phone books (and that there’s money to be had for local community centers in the process), is it wrong to wonder whether or not we should be looking into ways to reduce the number of unused phone directories getting out there in the first place?

According to the blog post: “The directories are made from recycled paper waste and wood fiber, such as sawdust and wood chips that would otherwise go unused. Directories are also recycled into animal bedding, bathroom tissue, cereal boxes, roofing shingles and new phone books.”

That’s good to know. At least we’re not cutting down trees solely to print an antiquated directory that perhaps 20 percent of the population still uses, but the assumption there would then be that the recycled material used to make phone books couldn’t otherwise be used for something else. Couldn’t it, though?

Right now, you can opt out of getting the phone book sent to your home. Just go to: http://www.yellowpagesoptout.com/. That’s a great thing, but it’s also not that well-known, and I’d wager it’s not very effective at getting rid of unused phone books. AT&T doesn’t have a lot of incentive to reduce the number of phone books out there — quite the opposite I’d imagine.

Here’s a proposal: Why not switch from an opt-out to an opt-in? If you want a phone book, you have to let the phone company know about it. Instead of sending a directory to everyone, the company could add an insert to the monthly phone bill with a simple “check yes or no” box asking whether or not a particular customer wants one. People who don’t answer at all don’t get one.

Again though, the incentive is there to do exactly the opposite, send one to everyone and allow people to opt out only if they ask, while not going out of your way to make it clear that they even can opt out. It just works better for the advertising aspect of things. Still, I can’t help getting the feeling that the overwhelming majority of phone directories out there are effectively just massive pieces of junk mail, and that the time when they were most useful is long gone.

What do you think, Asheville?

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6 thoughts on “City holding phone book recycling program through August 18 …. Who uses them anymore?

  1. ashevillain7

    I still use the phone book. Don’t care about the White Pages though (never did really)…still use the Yellow Pages on a consistent basis. I haven’t had a land line in over 6 years, I’ve changed addresses twice since then and I still receive a phone book. I’m pretty sure receiving a phone book is not tied to having a landline (or tied to any service for that matter).

    The only way I’d be OK with not receiving a physical copy of the book is if they went to some sort of e-book that still contained all of the same info. I don’t want to depend on a Google search to find say, all of the Subaru repair shops or every tax attorney in the area or every alterations shop for a few examples. Some businesses don’t have an internet presence and thus a Google search would not be helpful whereas these businesses still maintain a presence in the Yellow Pages so that is helpful.

  2. Margaret Williams

    My mom keeps phone books from the last three cities she’s lived in, and some of the books are … well, more than a few years old.

  3. Christopher George

    I get that some people still use the Yellow Pages, but they do have a website: yellowpages.com that seems to have all the local listings the print version would have. As I wrote in the post though, I haven’t opened a phone book in years, so it’s possible the print edition is more thorough.

  4. Ken Hanke

    I still use the white pages, but it takes a good light or a magnifying glass these days. I think that’s more my eyes than the phone book.

  5. Michelle Smith

    I used the phone book the other day to look up an actual person in the white pages…and she was in there! She’d changed her professional role. I probably use the thing once a year but sometimes it’s the answer.

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