Seattle Passes Nation's First Phone Book Opt-Out Law

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“Opt-in” and “opt-out” have been buzzwords in the telephone directory industry for years, so this week’s Seattle City Council Bill enforcing an opt-out registry system for city residents may not come as a surprise.

Seattle passed the nation's first phone book opt-out ordinance, which also requires directory publishers to pay for the City's phone book recycling costs. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

However, the law also requires directory publishers to pay $148 per ton of books to cover the city’s costs of recycling the estimated 2 million directories distributed annually. It is the first law in the U.S. placing the financial burden of phone book disposal on the publishers.

The opt-out registry will also be funded by directory publishers through a 14-cent fee per book distributed. The registry should be live by July 2011, and publishers that deliver books to those that have opted out are subject to fines. The fee will likely be reduced to 7 cents per book after five years.

“Seattleites are constantly looking for ways to reduce their impact on the environment, and the Council has heard from an overwhelming number of people who don’t want phone books,” said Councilmember Mike O’Brien, the prime sponsor of the legislation.

“Creating a one-stop shop managed by a third party will help reduce clutter, increase residential security, and, save Seattle Public Utilities customers, the people of Seattle, money.”

Yellow pages publishers are opposed to the new law and have suggested it might lead to legal action, claiming that it is not applying to other forms of media. The Yellow Pages Association also offers its own opt-out website that allows residents in all cities to forgo phone book delivery, raising questions over why it should pay to maintain a separate opt-out site for only one city.

The City of Seattle has targeted a recycling goal of 60 percent by 2012 as part of its Zero Waste Strategy, claiming that phone books represent 2.7 percent of the material (by weight) accepted at the curb each year. The EPA reports that only 21 percent of telephone books were recycled in 2008, but they also made up only .3 percent of the municipal solid waste stream.

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  • johnathan

    In the 1940′s most people took the trains to get from place to place. Trains were used to go to work, to go on vacation, their was trolly service everwhere. In the 1950′s the car took over every role, and the trains and public transit disappiered. 60 years later, its a fight to show poeple that public transportation and trains, as a more environmentaly friendly way of getting around. But then again trains are so 19 century tech.

    I bring this up because too many in the environmental movement believe that old tech isn’t green tech. I want to point out that just because something appiers old and dated compared to modern effecincy doesn’t mean its as wasteful as you think.

    Take phonebooks:
    They are good for a year or more. They have no carbon cost after they are delivered, and they are easy to recycle.

    Compare phonebooks to say a cell phone?
    Are cell phones easy to recycle? No, they are full of heavy metals.
    What is the the carbon cost of a cell phone? I only want to point out what I know, one cell phone site that might cover as little as .5 squre miles or 5 square miles, uses as much electricity to operate as a single family home, and that doesn’t even count the main switches, and the construction.
    People replace cell phones almost as often as they replace phonebooks, yet people would say that a cell phone is much better for the environment to look up information, not if your looking for something that is in a local phonebook, the local phonebook is much more environmentaly sound way to get local phone numbers.
    I realize that almost everyone believes everyone has a cell phone, but the fact is that the poor are often overlooked, and if they do have cell phones they have to pay to call 411 or look it up on a data package that eats up most of there talk time.

    Computers are much the same as cell phones, the carbon cost of a computer and the internet is huge! Don’t believe me, Google, “Googles carbon foot print”, then compare it to some countries total carbon impact. Not to mention the heavy metels and minning needed to build it.

    I know people see a huge pile of phonebooks and go how wasteful, but the fact is that its less then 3% of the paper waste stream. What makes the other 97%, take a guess, but because the news papers are much better about picking up the old ones, no one realizes how many go unused, and they are daily, weekly or monthly. Phone books are a once or twice a year inconvience, and they are greener then you think!

  • Chuck

    When did phone books become viral? As the other comment suggested….they contain no metals that
    harm the environment. They are easily recyclable. The books do not destroy millions of trees. Most
    phone books paper is scrap material like bark, etc. The materials come from forested trees…..planned
    use, not the destruction of existing forests.

    So, if you are one of those that oppose phone books, think about what you may use that was once a phone book. Pringles cans….made from recycled phone books….POP A CHIP for me. Blown in building insulation…something to save on heating and cooling costs, you guessed it, made from phone books. Mulch….many a phone book is turned into mulch for gardens, etc. Cat litter…ask Purina if they
    use recycled phone books? Those are but a few of the uses. So, while you tout the internet,
    think about the mercury and lead that winds up in our water system from poorly discarded computers.
    Give me a phone book with harmless soy ink anyday.