I unsubscribed from Yellowbook’s printed directory in 2008, but still received a directory from them in both 2009 and 2010, showing that the company is not capable of living up to its own promises.
So, this year, I decided to take a different approach to dealing with Yellowbook: I invoiced them for littering on my property the past two years. And I cc’d the Minnesota Attorney General, Lori Swanson, figuring that this might motivate Yellowbook to respond to my letter. It turns out that this worked, to a point. In the end, it created nearly a Yellowbook worth of letters and faxes.
Seattle is trying to recoup some of the costs of dealing with the printed yellow pages directories that are delivered to city residents without their permission. As I’ve mentioned here before, Yellow Pages disposal, whether recycled or trashed, puts a significant burden on municipalities. Seattle is attempting to address this by placing a reasonable “advanced recovery fee” that shifts the burden of disposal back to the companies who created the waste in the first place.
I like this plan for a variety of reasons:
1. It saves the city money. Budgets are tight, and spending limited funds to clean up the waste of private companies is a poor use of city resources. One that a city shouldn’t have to bear.
2. It may make yellow pages directory companies take their opt-out lists more seriously. If Yellow Pages companies are paying for the right to deliver directories to vacant homes, foreclosures, and residents who no longer use the books, they may actually think twice.
As you can probably imagine, the Yellow Pages Association does NOT like this plan one bit. Here’s an excerpt from the Legislative Alert they’ve posted to their site:
Yesterday the Seattle City Council’s Neighborhood and Public Utilities Committee passed by a vote of 2-0, Councilman Mike O’Brien’s ordinance to establish a city run opt-out site imposes an advanced recovery fee per (ARF) book as well as a fee per ton of books distributed in the city. Also of interest:
* The ARF would be assessed at 14-cents per book, plus $148 a ton to pay for the cost of the city opt-out site and the cost to recover the directories.
* The opt-out is indefinite or until the individual opts back in OR there is indication that someone has moved.
* The city’s registry will be available by mail, telephone, e-mail and online registration.
* Requires publishers to provide the city with lists of names & address of all residents and businesses who have contacted publishers directly with their request to stop receiving books.
* Publishers must prominently display on the front cover of directories distributed in the city the telephone number, website and mailing address of the city’s opt-out registry.
* Publishers must prominently display on their websites a link to the City’s opt-out registry along with information regarding the process for residents and business to opt-out of receiving delivery of directories.
* All content and materials included in a directory distributed within the city must be recyclable. This provision is particularly directed at magnets used on the covers of directories.
The industry will continue to strongly oppose this measure as it will hurt local small businesses and strain overburdened city resources and infringes upon the legal rights of publishers.
Notice the opposition to an indefinite opt-out. As I understand the YPA’s position, when you opt-out of receiving yellow pages, they really only want to take you off their list for 2-3 years. After that, they would prefer to assume that you didn’t really mean to opt-out, or that you missed the books so much that the YPA’s members are doing you a favor by dumping books at your home or office again. And, again, without permission.
I’d like to see Seattle succeed in their effort to do what’s best for their citizens. I like to think that the government is of, by, and for the people, rather than for companies that refuse to clean up their own messes.
Basically, YellowPagesOptOut.com redirected people to YPAssociation.org (still does) where people can type in their zip code to find each of the companies that deliver books to their homes without permission. People who no longer want yellow pages – or wish to reduce the number that they receive – can then click through to each of the sites and work through tedious opt-out procedures over and over again until they achieve their desired results.
Of course, this only puts them on the opt-out list. It’s not a guarantee that they’ll no longer receive the books, as I’ve experienced year after year since opting out of all of the directory publishers that are spamming my property.
KyleMacMac2 explains the issue well in this YouTube video:
A year later, one might imagine that the Yellow Pages Association has figured out a better way to deal with this issue. And, sure enough, they have innovated, although calling their latest work innovated is a bit of a reach. Last month, a group of Yellow Pages companies coughed up some coin to Conservation Minnesota to build a site called DontTrashThePhoneBook.org:
What is this? It’s YellowPagesOptOut.com with a Minnesota focus. That’s it. It’s just another site where people are pointed to all of their local directory spammer’s sites, forcing people to tediously unsubscribe from directories they never asked for in the first place.
One thing that I find encouraging is seeing the president of the Yellow Pages Association admit that the Yellow Pages industry should see no drop in ad revenues by scaling back deliveries to people who don’t use the books:
Despite decreased deliveries, YPA President Neg Norton said he doesn’t expect local ad revenue to decline, because those who opt out out likely weren’t using the phone books anyway.
“[Advertisers] are still going to get the same calls and leads as they were before,” Norton said.
Obviously, only books delivered to people who bring them into their houses and open them from time to time are providing value to the Yellow Pages industry’s customers. Every book that’s an over-delivery, whether it’s sent to someone who no longer uses it or a vacant residence, is taking money out of local small businesses, the Yellow Pages company’s bottom line, and local tax payers who are forced to dispose of YP spam.
The Future of Opt-Out
The Yellow Pages industry’s two largest trade groups have announced that they plan to build a universal opt-out site, and launch it in early 2011. If this lives up to the hype, it would allow people to use one online form to control the number of directories that come to their property, and from whom. That sounds like a positive step.
Of course, it still fails to address the problems we see with deliveries to vacant homes, including foreclosures. It’s also unlikely to help address over deliveries to apartment or office buildings.
However, there is a way to solve this problem. In fact, the phone directory industry supports it: Opt-In. If people have to request a book rather than have to opt-out, truly only people who want them will get them. However, at this point, the phone directory industry only supports this for white pages rather than yellow pages. This has happened in Cincinnati, OH (the phone directory company argued that phone directories [um, just the white ones] are “outmoded”)
Cincinnati Bell says most customers rarely use the printed residential directory any longer but prefer to look up numbers on the Web.
and Albany, NY
Verizon, the largest telephone company in New York with about 5.1 million lines, estimates that approximately 5,000 tons of paper per year could be saved, as well as the significant energy costs associated with printing and distributing much larger directories statewide, creating a significant environmental benefit and unburdening thousands of customers who have no need for a printed directory.
Have you noticed a drop in the number of print yellow pages directories you’ve had to deal with in Minneapolis or St. Paul this year? It turns out that you aren’t imagining things, and it isn’t just wishful thinking. There really are fewer yellow pages directories being distributed, thanks to Verizon Superpages:
Will life go on for businesses in Minneapolis and St. Paul if residents only receive two yellow pages directories a year rather than three? That seems likely.
Now, if we could only get the remainingtwo to add some intelligence to their distribution by having easy to use opt-out systems that they actually honor.
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This gives me the impression that I’m not alone is my interest to not receive printed yellow pages directories. Also, yellow pages do seem popular for escort serviced. Maybe the AGs who pressured Craigslist to shut down their Adult Services ads have inadvertently driven prostitution back to the yellow pages? Time will tell.
Ken Clark raises a good point about the source material used to create phone books these days. They’re not exactly mowing down virgin forests to make the things. He thinks the industry could do a better job promoting this fact:
But I don’t blame the public for their lack of understanding, I blame the industry. How would someone know about how recycled white material, wood chips, and even some good old fashion trash are the sources of the content/fiber that makes up the pages of the a phone book – we’ve never bothered to tell anyone about it which is really perplexing at a time every industry is shouting about its environmental efforts.
That is a good point. Of course, a phone directory that’s delivered to a property that has no interest in using it, or no residents (such as foreclosures) is still a complete waste, and a tax burden to dispose of.
Ken, of course, plays the opt-out card to explain that it’s a non-issue, but I’ve never seen a foreclosed house make a phone call to 1, 2, or 3 yellow pages directory companies. Ken is also well aware of the issues I’ve had with yellow pages directory companies not actually honoring the opt-out requests they’ve received. A yellow pages directory sent to my home is wasteful no matter what is used for materials.
Ken also seems to be forgetting that a huge percentage of phone books are delivered in plastic bags.
And Ken seems to be suggesting that the ONLY thing remnant wood chips and recycled paper could possibly be used for is phone books. It’s as is the YP industry is doing is a service by converting piles of wood chips into yellow pages which we an then send to recycling centers or landfills.
At some point, I think Ken will begin to understand that REDUCE comes before REUSE or RECYCLE. He’s not there yet. A person that thinks YP opt-in policies are the radical thinking of a “few obtuse paper jihadists” still has a way to go before reaching the reality based community.
In boardrooms of yellow pages companies around the country, conversations like this are taking place:
PR: We’re getting flak about all of the waste our books generate. People are taking pictures of directories rotting outside foreclosed homes. It’s not good.
CEO: What can we do to create the illusion that we’re a green industry?
CFO: We can’t afford to pick up our own waste. It would ruin us financially.
CEO: We need to think outside the box on this one. Does anyone have any ideas?
Head of Circulation: How about we have children collect our waste?
CEO: You have my attention. Tell me more.
Head of Circulation: We could work with schools to run contests to see who can collect the most books. Kids are cheap. We may not even have to pay them.
CEO: Not pay them? But how?
PR: Are you thinking that we should give some small but significant amount of money to the schools that would make minimum wage seem like a lot of money?
Head of Circulation: Exactly. Schools will kill for $500 these days Heck, they’d probably run an assembly to motivate kids to earn that kind of coin. Compare that to what it would cost to hire adults pick up the books.
CEO: This does sound interesting.
CFO: If we donate money to the school rather than pay the children, we can probably turn this into a charitable donation.
PR: I bet we can get the media to cover this. They love feel good eco stories, and will totally miss the fact that we’re exploiting child labor to clean up our own mess. We spend a ton on advertising with the, so even if they realize that, they’ll ignore it.
CEO: This sounds too good to be true. Will it really work?
Head of Circulation: Yes! In fact, it’s already being done in some markets, like Hawaii, by The Berry Company.
CFO: We may also be able to sell the books the children collect to local recyclers. Some pay a penny a pound for phone books.
CEO: This is brilliant. I’m glad I thought of this.
Yellow Pages industry insider, Ken Clark, once again proves that he has no clue how to deal with changes to the yellow pages landscape by insulting people who complain about the costs of yellow pages disposal:
The link in his tweet goes to this post on The Deets where I tried to break down the cost we all pay to deal with the waste generated by the yellow pages industry. Apparently, Ken Clark feels that Minnesotans shouldn’t be bitching about spending tax dollars dealing with his industry’s waste.
At the time I posted that Minnesota’s population was estimated to be 4,919,479. Now, it’s saying 5,266,214. Either way, that comes to around one million dollars per year spent on recycling and trash services to deal with yellow pages. Just in the State of Minnesota, which has around 1/60th of the US population.
Ken, here’s a deal for you: If you and/or your YP buddies will cut an annual check to the State of Minnesota for $1 million, I’ll stop bitching about the cost of dealing with disposing of yellow pages. Yes, I can be bought. Just cover this one externality your industry creates and I’ll shut up.
Of course, I’ll still bitch about the time cost of dealing with your books, about your industry littering foreclosed homes, about your industry delivering to people on opt-out lists, etc., but it’s a start.
It’s also worth noting that Ken decided to ignore the fact that most of the waste his industry creates ends up in landfills.
Let me know when the check’s in the mail.
What really gets me about this particular Ken Clark absurdity is that the guy claims to be a fiscal conservative. If that’s the case, you think the guy would show some sympathy for taxpayers. However, it looks like Ken Clark is a self-absorbed fiscal conservative who wants taxpayers to supplement his industry’s business. It’s the other stuff that’s wasteful. #suckeatabagofdicks(ht@ang)
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency breaks down how your taxpayer dollars are being spent cleaning up the yellow pages industry’s mess (annually)
Generation and management
The MPCA estimates that 13,000 tons of phone books were distributed in Minnesota in 2006; nearly 13 pounds per household (based on 2005 population estimates).
* Recycling. Telephone directories are generally collected through local government recycling programs, primarily curbside. The U.S. EPA estimates a national recycling rate of 18 percent. Minnesota’s 2006 recycling rate for directories was estimated at just 11 percent, down from 35 percent in 2003. For 2006, directory publishers reported that 111 tons of phone directories were recycled. Through the SCORE report, Minnesota counties reported 1,462 tons of phone directories were recycled in 2006.
* Waste. Based on 2006 estimates for recycling, 11,538 tons of phone books were discarded as municipal solid waste in Minnesota. A 2007 waste composition study at the waste-to energy-facility in Hennepin County found that telephone books constituted 3.8 percent of the waste delivered to the facility.
* Cost. Despite the statute enacted in 1992, telephone directories remain a problem for waste managers. A recent national study by the Product Stewardship Institute estimated that it costs $50-75/tons to recycle, and $75-100 per ton to manage telephone directories as garbage. Eureka Recycling (Minneapolis) reports spending about $32,500 annually to recycle 650 tons of directories from the east Metro area, including St. Paul.
Here’s a quick calculation:
1,500 tons at $62.50 per ton to recycle: $93,750
11,538 tons at $87.50 per ton to deal with thrown away books: $1,006,250
Total cost (per year): $1,100,000
Minnesota Population: 4,919,479
Cost of dealing with Yellowpages: 20.5 cents per Minnesotan per year.
This, of course, doesn’t account for the time Minnesotans spend disposing of the books that arrive at their home (hopefully in their recycling). If one in three Minnesotans spend 2 minutes per year dealing with phone book disposals (and values their time at $15/hr on average), Minnesotans are wasting around $800,000 per year in time.
Bet: Yellowbook will spam my house with yet another print directory in the summer of 2011. I unsubscribed in 2008, yet still received their print spam in 2009 and 2010. They have a track record of incompetence that I have no reason to believe will change in 2011.