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Getting Answers : How Can I Get Rid of Unwanted Phone Books?

October 10, 1994

CRAIG BUCK, Sherman Oaks

If someone chucks a beer can on my front lawn, it's considered littering. What makes dumping unwanted phone directories any different?

Pacific Bell Directory recently dumped 40 pounds of hard-to-recycle trash on my doorstep. Well, it was actually 32 pounds because of the 10 phone books delivered, I can use two.

We live in an age of diminishing space. A 1989 University of Arizona study of 16,000 pounds of trash from landfills nationwide cited phone books as the greatest offenders. Yet the City of Los Angeles does not collect phone books.

Still, Pacific Bell and a growing number of private directory companies distribute phone books without solicitation, often--as in my case--way out of proportion to a customer's needs. One problem is the belief that each phone line needs its own phone book or two. Yet it's common to have a separate line for the kids, another for business and maybe even separate lines for fax machines and modems. In my house, we have five phone lines yet need only one set of phone books.

Would it be so difficult for the phone company to put a computer-readable questionnaire on our bills for us to indicate how many phone books we need? Or for private firms to call before dumping their phone books on our property? This would not only reduce municipal waste, but would save trees, conserve energy and cut pollutants now emitted by producing and hauling hundreds of thousands of extraneous phone books every year. Presumably, these lower costs would translate to lower phone bills as well.

What They Said:


Spokesman, City of Los Angeles recycling division

Phone books are not part of our recycling effort because there is no end market for them. If we'd collect them, we'd end up with a backlog because there really isn't any place to unload them. With other recyclables, we contract with those who can reprocess the materials. But phone books are already at the end of their life cycle so it has to be a phone industry effort. We refer callers to phone company services.


Media relations manager, Pacific Bell Directory, San Francisco

We deliver up to 4 million directories in Southern California, including Spanish books. We try to coordinate recycling efforts with various cities and recyclers at the same time books are delivered. This usually consists of month-long drives where customers can drop off old books at specific locations. There is also a number on the bottom front cover, (800) 953-4400, that details statewide recycling efforts.

Right now, we recycle an average of 15% of books in the greater Los Angeles area. This compares to about 50% in San Francisco, where they have curbside (phone book) recycling.

We don't have computerized services for changing the number of directories that people receive yet. We are making calls to some customers to see what their needs are. People can also call our resource center at (800) 848-8000 to order more or fewer books.

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