phone book wasteWhen was the last time you looked up something in the phone book? What did you do the last time you got a free phone book dropped off on your doorstep–did you recycle it? If you’re like most people these days, your answers to those questions are probably “I don’t remember” and “No.”

WhitePages, an online directory service, recently released the results of a survey it conducted indicating that only 15.9 percent of U.S. adults recycle their old or unwanted phone books, and that U.S. citizens are largely unaware of the environmental impact of printing and delivering so many phone books (five million trees cut down every year!). WhitePages is sponsoring a “Ban the Phone Book” initiative to encourage the creation of “opt-in” programs, wherein citizens would only receive a phone book if they requested one. In the survey, 81 percent of respondents said they’d support such a program. Many states currently require phone companies to provide phone books to all landline subscribers, even as the internet threatens to make physical phone books obsolete.

Some states and phone companies already have “opt-out” programs, similar to do-not-call registries for telemarketers, allowing subscribers to indicate that they don’t wish the receive the phone book. Proponents of “opt-in” programs, however, say that they’re easier for consumers and more effective in reducing waste. Cincinnati Bell started an opt-in program earlier this year, bringing their White Pages online and only providing the printed version to customers who ask for it. In Florida, AT&T plans to test out an opt-in program for its White Pages in four cities this fall. The company is considering a similar program in Missouri’s metropolitan areas as well.

If your area doesn’t have opt-in or opt-out programs yet, you can lobby your local government or landline provider, while in the meantime making sure to recycle the unwanted phone books that get dumped on your doorstep.

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