Phone Book: Friend or Foe?

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Just like every page that’s ever rolled off the printing presses, every phone book has a story to tell. The first phone book debuted in 1878 as a simple cardboard printout of 50 local businesses that owned a phone line in New Haven, Conn. Over the years, phone books have given dialers a much-needed boost, providing their recipients with a tangible tool for finding long-lost friends, searching out reputable businesses, and even acting as a literal boost to raise up petite patrons.

Most people over the age of 20 have at least one fond memory of growing up with these info-filled books, whether it was to find a pizza delivery while mom and dad were out or attempting the “half-ripped” strength test à la Georges Christen.

Despite the useful purpose these golden standards have served over the past century, phone books have received a bad rap from users claiming they’ve become obsolete or are a “waste of trees.” There’s no denying that the abundance of information available online has taken away from the need to thumb through the white pages, but phone books still have a place in modern society. In fact, the local nature of telephone directories has stimulated local economies to the tune of between $413 billion and $1.03 trillion in U.S. commerce as it relates to personal consumer expenditures, and directory paper is actually derived from incredibly sustainable and environmental resources.

So why all the scoffers? Allow us to debunk a few phony phone book facts:

Myth #1. Phone books kill trees.

The truth? Not only is paper one of the most recycled materials on the planet, but directory paper actually contains fiber primarily derived from residual wood chips and other by-products of the lumber industry, as well as recycled content from newspapers, old directories and other paper-based products. Furthermore, directories are printed with soy-based ink and bound with vegetable-based adhesives that are biodegradable and environmentally safe. Also, strategic partnerships in communities across the country enable directory materials to be reused for innovative products that help grow the local economy, such as hydromulch and insulation.

Myth #2. No one uses phone books anymore.

The truth? Studies have found that more than 63 percent of consumers will contact a business after looking it up in the Yellow Pages, and of that percentage, 38 percent will end up making a purchase. Also, Yellow Pages ads offer local advertisers a good return on their investment — about $24 for every dollar spent in small and mid-sized markets, and $13 for every dollar spent in large markets.

Myth #3. Phone books are wasteful and hurt the environment.

The truth? Phone book publishers are continually evaluating their environmental footprint and have figured out new ways to use fewer raw materials than electronic devices and consume less energy overall. In fact, nearly 60 percent of the power used to make paper comes from renewable sources. In 2012, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported that the paper recycling rate was 70 percent, where directories represented less than one-half of 1 percent of the solid waste stream. In recent reports, the EPA stopped measuring directories separately and included them with newsprint and other mechanical paper, signaling that directories continue to make up only a tiny, almost immeasurable, portion of paper in the waste stream.

Myth #4. Yellow Pages aren’t relevant anymore.

The truth? Directory publishers are advocates for local business, and remain committed to empowering regional economies while reducing their environmental impact. Since Yellow Pages are locally distributed and focus on local business, sales derived from phone books not only help local economies and create jobs, but they also reduce energy usage by encouraging consumers to buy closer to home.

Myth #5. There’s no way to opt out if I don’t want a phone book.

The truth? You can choose which phone books you do or do not want to receive. You don’t have to opt out completely. Directory publishers have created an easy tool at YellowPagesOptOut.com that allows consumers to choose which print directories they want delivered or stop delivery altogether. Publishers believe so strongly about this tool that they even promote it on telephone directory covers and have published it elsewhere for several years.

Editor’s Note: Earth911 partners with many industries, manufacturers and organizations to support its Recycling Directory, the largest in the nation, which is provided to consumers at no cost. Dex Media is one of these partners.