Is It Time to Ban Phone Books?

Is It Time to Ban Phone Books?

Summary: Should we ban phone books or at least make them opt in?

TOPICS: Telcos, Mobility

Doc's number has always been unlisted (don't ask), and I have to say it's been a few years since I've actually looked a phone number up in the White Pages of the phone directory. But each year- like clockwork- a new version of the phone book shows up on my doorstep whether I need it or not.

So should we ban phone books or at least make them opt in?

For one group (, the answer is a resounding "yes."

According to the group's Website, an estimated 5 million trees are cut down each year to create white pages phone books and that according to a recent survey conducted with Harris Interactive, only 22% of recipients recycle when disposing of them. In addition, the group's own survey shows that almost 75% of consumers are completely unaware of the environmental and financial impact in printing, delivering, and recycling these books. Given that many people likely use online directories, social networks, and mobile phone applications to find the contact information they need, it simply does not make sense to have the white pages phone books forcefully delivered every year.

According to a recent Harris Interactive survey, 87% of consumers would support an 'opt-in' program (only receive a white pages phone book if you request one) if they knew it would have a positive impact on the environment and save taxpayers money.

Doc is a big fan of freedom of choice, but he's also a free-market advocate who believes direct marketing (which the phone book should now be considered) should be one of the tools companies use to reach consumers. If we ban phone books then what's to stop banning catalogs and other printed marketing materials?

I'd love to hear from readers what they think of this movement. Should we ban phone directories or at least make them opt-in?

Topics: Telcos, Mobility

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Make this a poll

    Add a pole to this post & see what everyone has to say. My white & yellow pages go directly from my porch to my recycle bin, have for the past 3 years. I don't even look at them first. I am guessing I am not the only one that does this. Smartphones, tablets, netbooks & laptops have put a serious dent in the need for anything on paper. Companies still try to justify paper as a way of making money from the ad revenue. Time to start phasing out paper....
  • RE: Is It Time to Ban Phone Books?

    We don???t believe government bans of information sources like phone books is good for anyone, especially local businesses, consumers without easy access to online or mobile search, or people who like to use print directories. If you want to stop delivery of print phone books, can you easily go to and make your own choice. FYI, this site is supported by the YP industry, not your tax dollars.

    More than three million small businesses in the U.S. advertise in the Yellow Pages and continue to do so because they drive high-quality sales leads. Publishers understand that phone books need to be produced in a way that is better for the environment. When available, publishers are using paper made from recycled newspapers, old phone books and leftover woodchips from the lumber industry. Many phone books get recycled and since 2007, directory paper usage has dropped 35%.
    Full disclosure, I work for the Local Search Association.
    S Hobbs
    • RE: Is It Time to Ban Phone Books?

      @S Hobbs Interestingly enough I've published a very small, local Phone Book in Tamarindo, Costa Rica for the past 7-years and advertising revenues are up. It's the most popular printed piece of material in town and widely used by residents and tourists to find information. But, it's a glossy, magazine-style publication. To see live copy:<br><br>www.wowtamarindo. com
      famous points
  • RE: Is It Time to Ban Phone Books?

    <a href="">DAI</a> also known as <a href="">Directory Assistants, Inc.</a> case studies can be found at <a href=""></a>.
  • RE: Is It Time to Ban Phone Books?

    Doc appreciates the comments and learned a lot by visiting Not only can you add your address to an opt-out list for directory publishers, but you can find out all kinds of interesting things about phone directories. Did you know that egg cartons and coffee cups often come from recycled phone directories? There are also tips on how to recycle your used phone directories just in case you don???t know how to throw something in the recycle bin.
    DocuMentor (Doc)
  • RE: Is It Time to Ban Phone Books?

    Consumers should opt i or out for phone books. Telephone companies should send out Emails, etc. to see if the consumer wants a phone directory or not. Then print them as ordered. My mom & dad in their late 70's to 80's don't use the directory anymore they use the internet for such. I't been years since I have ued a phone book.
  • RE: Is It Time to Ban Phone Books?

    Well most white pages are useless as most use cell phones and are not listed. However when I try to google a ph # I
    am always directed to a PAY phone list. Perhaps the phone co;s should be directed to provide an online white pages for free. Then if we opt'd out of the print version
    we would at least have a source to search. Without exaggeration almost 95% of my ph searches turn up a cell ph. (For a fee of course). Long live free enterprise (and ripoffs).
  • RE: Is It Time to Ban Phone Books?

    I think there should be a nominal charge for those that want a yellow page directory; its a pain in the ass to dispose of them.
  • RE: Is It Time to Ban Phone Books?

    Opt in is fine, but it is dangerous for democracy to assume that everyone has access to Internet or even wants access to the Internet. I went without for a year and people looked at me as if I was an alien when I told them. Be careful of making defacto laws that we must have certain technologies.
    • RE: Is It Time to Ban Phone Books?

      @RayAhern yeah I'm sure there are no computers at your work to check your email or stay in touch either. nor any libraries within a short distance of your house (most have free internet terminals and/or wifi). and many people w/o any wifi at least find an open neighbor's signal or coffeeshop to piggy back off of.
      • RE: Is It Time to Ban Phone Books?

        @bri719 So I should walk a mile to the Library or pay for 411 every time I want to look up a phone number? Not everyone can use the internet at work either. I'm sure the manager of the crew member taking your order at McDonalds wouldn't mind them using the cash register to look up phone numbers between orders. Of course, barring either of those options, I can always hack my neighbors WiFi to get online.

        Just because 90% of the U.S. (guesstimate) has access to internet does not mean that everyone does. There are people who live far from mainstream towns who may not have broadband access, or maybe even don't have reliable dial-up. (Ugh, what horror). Not to mention, some people are living paycheck to paycheck and may not even be able to afford any kind of internet, let alone a computer to access it with.
      • RE: Is It Time to Ban Phone Books?

        @bri719 <br><br>You sound like you live in a city. Chances of finding a signal, a library or a coffee shop drops dramatically in rural communities.<br><br>Also, the advent of new technologies does not necessarily mean that everyone can kick out their decades-old habits. Think about it: why do we still have bank tellers when ATMs, telephone banking and Internet banking are everywhere?
      • RE: Is It Time to Ban Phone Books?

        I know several people who don't need E-mail, balance their checkbooks from a paper statement and a printing calculator, and type occasional correspondence on a typewriter when not in longhand with a pen or pencil and blank paper. They have no use for a computer or Internet at home, and in one case also not at the barber shop where he works. They're not young, but they're still working, living in and maintaining their own homes, and paying taxes.

        They call friends when they need to buy airplane tickets, which are more expensive by telephone, but other than that they don't need or want computers, even if they were willing to mooch their neighbors' Wi-Fi (illegal). Getting into a car to go to a library or restaurant is more trouble than it's worth. I'm not saying we should all get paper books paid for by our rates to subsidize the few who might use them, but we should not pretend that some minority of our society isn't happy without computers or Internet.

        I know many business owners who say Yellow Pages isn't productive use of their advertising dollars so they don't participate. I also know owners who believe it's a productive medium and they pay. Perhaps a discount on the rate for not to receive white pages, but to ban Yellow Pages would be to ban a medium its customers are willing to pay for.

        Rather than banning an annual use of paper, I'd like to see a real improvement in directory listings: an opt-in or opt-out that would get correct white pages listings for all PSTN, cable, and cell phone numbers that want to be listed, all together in white pages, 411, and Internet searches, and all together on a do not call list.
    • RE: Is It Time to Ban Phone Books?

      @RayAhern Of course you are right, Ray ??? we tend to jump to conclusions these days and assume everyone is well connected to the Internet. But statistically it's the minority that still need (or perhaps even want) printed phone directories, so it does seem reasonable to only make them available to those folks who need them. But agreed not everyone has ready access to online phone directories.
      DocuMentor (Doc)
  • I use my phonebook all the time...

    As kindling for my firepit and to start my coals in my charcoal chimney before I put the coals in my grill. But there is no way that I can burn all 6 phonebooks I receive each year...
  • RE: Is It Time to Ban Phone Books?

    Ads pays 4 the publishing! I former yp marketer. We now have so many books. (compitition). Every city or county, shld pub own book not & ovr chg 4 ads! Let the City w/Chamber of Commerce get involved, tke bids & choose own printing co. ea year. Evn I could set it up! That way we could have ONE ph book per city/county yearly. All businesses wld not have go broke trying to get in all bks! Bigger cities only allowed sm ads not Full pg.
  • It's All About Compitition & The Profits.

    This is why we have so many books. Bus's are afraid buddy down street might b n book he's not, so in fear most adver in ea book. Anyone comes to your city 2 make a buck A "New Ph Book" is born! Your city allows this! Ph book is a Dinosaur, but still need just ONE. Prob thru about last of WWII generation.
  • Government's don't &quot;ban&quot; these kind of things...

    And of course not everyone has reliable internet access/smartphones etc, especially seniors. An opt-in service might be a good way to reduce waste, but a ban? You're making this sound like a dangerous weapon or something, lol.<br><br>...and what's gonna happen if the power goes out?
  • RE: Is It Time to Ban Phone Books?

    There are some people (normally elderly) who do not have smart phones and so the phone book is normally the cheapest way to get numbers. Maybe if the telcos supplied an electronic handheld version that can be plugged into the phone line and be updated automatically. Would have to a cheaper alternative to the phone book
  • Save the Jobs

    It may be environmentally prudent to not publish phonebooks, however don't complain when a few thousand jobs are also lost along the way.