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Eco Times: The Weight of Paper Phone Books

The week leading up to Christmas I was anxiously awaiting a holiday package which had been shipped from one of my preferred vendors. After work, as I approached my house, I couldn’t contain my excitement when the box came into view!  I pulled into the driveway, got out of the car, and made a mad dash for the door, upon which my feeling of elation quickly turned into wholehearted disappointment when I realized that my anticipated delivery was the local phone directory.

Huh? They still make these? I thought, and then I got a nagging feeling, more like an aggravated sensation which begged the question, “Why are they STILL making these?” I can’t even think of the last time I used a paper directory rather than throw it into the recycling bin.  I brought it inside anyway and set it down in the foyer where it remained, ignored, until I decided to move it to the blue box.  After several days of walking past it, I heaved it up off the floor, and gave a look-see before tossing it into the bin.  Even while flipping through it, my feelings were solidified, “What a waste,” I mumbled to myself.

While paper directories were once essential before the digital age, online research for local services, businesses, agencies, and numbers has become mainstream.  Many of us have little or no use for phonebooks as this information is just a couple of clicks away on one’s phone or computer.  The transition from these printed books to digital directories should be immediate to offset the negative environmental impact of their production.

  • Each year phone books use up to an estimated 4.68 million trees or 14 football fields worth of forest a day. Learning more about the detrimental effects of the degradation of forests can be found at onetreeplanted.org.
  • Printing the directories produces roughly 3.57 million tons of greenhouse gases and consumes billions of gallons of water, despite manufacturers ‘ claims that they use recycled paper to produce them. The Environmental Problem of Phone Books–Is There a Solution? Retrieved from www.scientificamerican.com
  • Producing the directories uses up to 3.2 billion kilowatt hours of electricity and generates 268,000 cubic yards of solid waste that ends up in landfills where recycling is not available. The Environmental Problem of Phone Books–Is There a Solution? Retrieved from www.scientificamerican.com
  • Recycling or throwing away the 650,000 tons of phonebooks distributed nationally each year costs municipalities somewhere between $45-62 million.  Joseph Stromberg (2014, Dec. 17). The infuriating reason you still get a phonebook delivered every year. Retrieved from www.vox.com.

However, according to the directory publishers, they insist that they have taken appropriate steps in recent years to operate as sustainable as possible. The Yellow Pages Association (YPA) and the Association of Directory Publishers (ADP) have collaborated in order to reduce their footprint through formal guidelines by calling for a reduction of directories through customer opt-out initiatives, environmentally friendly manufacturing practices, and solidifying recycling programs, etc.

Since receiving these directories are part of a service that communication companies are required to provide, what can we do? We can try to recycle them, but they can’t always be recycled. If we did all indeed recycle our directories and the recycling programs accepted them, we could free up two million cubic yards of landfill space!  Another option is to visit www.yellowpagesoptout.com to opt out, or get creative reusing them. I have even heard that some people have used them for fire starters or have shredded the pages to use as mulch to keep weeds down in gardens. If you have any other sustainably-savvy ideas on reusing these dated directories, please do share them.


Angela Polimeni is an ENL teacher in the city of Buffalo. She is the creator of Eco Tee Co, a sustainable apparel + natural products company which she began as a project to inspire environmental and social responsibility within the community. She believes that a sense of place enables people to live a more sustainable lifestyle as the connection between their location and natural environment motivates them to take action to obviate negative global ramifications. ecoteeco.com| @eco_tee_co

Written by Angela Polimeni

Angela Polimeni

Angela Polimeni is an ENL teacher in the city of Buffalo. She is the creator of Eco Tee Co, a sustainable apparel + natural products company which she began as a project to inspire environmental and social responsibility within the community. She believes that a sense of place enables people to live a more sustainable lifestyle as the connection between their location and natural environment motivates them to take action to obviate negative global ramifications. @eco_tee_co | https://ecoteeco.com/

View All Articles by Angela Polimeni
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