FOX9 on MPCA’s Phone Book Spam Policies

FOX9 took a look at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s stance on how to deal with over delivery of print directories. The Deets even got a plug*:

In a bit of news that should be music to the ears of Minneapolis blogger and phone book fighter Ed Kohler , the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is pointing Minnesotans to a website to opt out of phone book delivery.


The MPCA recommends opt outs because they stop waste from being created in the first place, thus making it even better than recycling. The MPCA says Minnesotans recycle about 20 percent of the 5,000 tons of phone books that are delivered in the state each year.

While it’s great to see FOX9 addressing the issue at some level, it seems like they’ve lost a step since their previous coverage in May, when they reported:

Only about 11 percent of phone books are being recycled around Minnesota, leaving stacks of Yellow Pages at the garbage dump. Now, a state agency is pushing for an opt-in system that would only allow phone book publishers to send books to customers that want them.

But the MPCA, would prefer the state implement an opt-in system, in which you’d have to give permission to get the books.

Sometime between May and yesterday, the percentage of phone books being recycled magically doubled (it’s actually declined dramatically since 2003 according to MPCA’s website). Also, the MPCA has switched from pushing for an opt-in system to promoting an opt-out system.

To me, this looks like a story built off a Yellow Pages Association press release promoting the domain name they purchased. As regular Deets readers know, yellow pages companies are failing to honor the delivery opt-out requests they receive, which makes the promotion of a website asking people to contact not one but three companies in the hope that they’ll honor the requests a relatively fruitless exercise.

Here are a few nuggets from the MPCA’s site regarding the costs (environmental and financial) we all bear:

Based on the 2006 estimates for total generation and recycling of phone books, if half of Minnesota’s households opted out of receiving printed phone books, that would reduce waste by about 6500 tons.

That amount of waste prevention translates to conserving 101,583 million Btu, and preventing 14,000 “metric tons of carbon-dioxide equivalent” (MTCO2E), a measure of global-warming potential.

Based on current recycling rates together with disposal costs (recycling or as waste), we’d save between $4.6m – $6.3m annually by not having to deal with over delivery ridiculousness. In fact, as a state, we could likely cut much deeper without causing any pain for MN households by paring down to one set of books per household. However, this relies on people taking the time to call at least two companies, navigating phone trees at each, and wasting hundreds of thousands of hours of Minnesotan’s time. And, again, this is based on the assumption that phone directory spammers will actually honor the opt-out requests they receive (not a pretty track record).

An opt-in system, on the other hand, would give households the right to receive as many books from as many companies as they’d like, but they’d have to request to receive them. This would solve a lot of issues that opt-out doesn’t such as litter deliveries to vacant properties. It’s hard for a non-existent person to opt-out of deliveries.

Is this too rational?

* The Pioneer Press ran nearly the same story. I’m not sure which is the original or if they’re nearly the same due to being based on the same press release.

4 thoughts on “FOX9 on MPCA’s Phone Book Spam Policies”

  1. It seems like it would be tricky to craft opt-in legislation. How do you say that companies x,y, and z aren’t allowed to leave their products on doorsteps without also prohibiting neighborhood businesses or small newspapers from following the same rules? “All printed products containing more than q pages may not be distributed without property owners consent?”

  2. I was sent the same release, visited the site, (an old site run by the Yellow Pages people) and decided that it wasn’t news. It’s also not helpful.

    It simply asks you to put in your zip code, and then gives me four companies that I can contact on my own. One of the 4 had an e-mail to opt out, the other 3 wanted a phone call. Thanks for nothing.

  3. Hey Reuben, you say it would be tricky to craft opt-in legislation, but then you did it in 16 words…God bless us if any ‘tricky’ legislation could be summed up in 16 words, yet your summary works fine for me and that number of pages could even be ‘1’ as far as I’m concerned (you got something to sell me and can’t sum it up in one page…you are already in trouble folks).

    Of course no legislative action would be needed if YP had any moral conscience and community-minded feelings…they have completely hid their good sense behind their greed and are more than happy to hide behind denial and obfuscation (intentional and unintentional/ignorant), leaving citizens no choice but acts of civil disobedience and disgusted calls for legislation.

    For anyone who once thought capitalism will act responsibly toward doing the ‘right’ thing…I give you the YP experience as the proof otherwise.

  4. I saw the story in the PiPress and finally got off the dime and went to the opt-out website. For me, a St. Paul resident, there were three companies listed. Dex had an online opt-out form, while the other two required a phone call.

    The extension listed on the opt-out site for one of the two companies was incorrect, but I navigated the phone trees, talked to two human beings, and supposedly should stop receiving phone books in 60 to 90 days. Which seems like a ridiculously long period of time… 30 days really should do it.

    I’ll let you know if I get any books after February 1.

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