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

"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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