I-Team Report: Directory Existence

Apr. 28, 2010 (CHICAGO)

From downstate to down the street, across Chicagoland and across the country, more than 550 million copies of the phone book are being delivered. That is almost two directories per person in America; whether you want them or not.

"Nobody needs them so they leave them outside, then they get rained on, then you are definitely not going to pick them up and take them inside," said Angela Robertson, Chicago.

"Last year they sat there until they got super moldy and then the landlord hauled them away somewhere," said Mike Shannon, Chicago.

The first Yellow Pages came out 125 years ago, when the printer ran out of white paper - an era when most people didn't even have telephones.

Now, most people have computers where names, addresses, phones numbers, ads, consumer reviews and more are available. But the Yellow Pages industry says its recent research shows 80 percent of all adults still use paper phone books.

"It's the consumers' choice. The consumer gets the directories and they either keep them or recycle them," said Neg Norton, president, Yellow Pages Association.

In Chicago, you don't have to look far to see evidence of the decision made by some people.

"They dropped off six because there are six apartments in my building but maybe one person picks up one of those phone books so the other five go to waste; go into the garbage," said Dawn Bergan, Woodlawn resident.

"When these companies come in a drop these phone books, you end up getting huge piles of phone books outside all the different apartment buildings and condo buildings in the neighborhood," said Ald. Joe Moore, 49th Ward.

That, says Rogers Park alderman Joe Moore, costs the taxpayers.

"On a number of fronts. First just picking up the ones left behind. Second, the cost of disposal of them. Either through putting them in landfills or recycling, it's a cost to the city," said Moore. "From our perspective it doesn't do any good to deliver a phone book to someone who doesn't want one. The vast majority of adults continue to use print directories. For the people who don't, we give them opportunity to opt out of unwanted phone books," said Norton.

"No, I had no idea about that," said Shannon.

First though, you have to know there is a way to opt out. Then, if you let your fingers do the walking to the industry's opt-out opportunity, you better have fit fingers.

On one phone book website we had to navigate through eight pages of confusing commands just to find the opt-out form.

"Everybody gets a large version and a compact version of the book," said Patricia Dittmer, Yellow Pages deliverer.

It is no wonder that this phone book delivery person says she rarely has opt out addresses on her delivery paperwork.

"There are very few but on occasion there is a person or two that does not get one," said Dittmer.

"From the industry's perspective they would rather that the people not know opportunities for opt out," said Scott Cassel, Product stewardship Institute.

In Boston, Cassel oversees the product stewardship institute that is working with the Yellow Pages industry on an effective way for people to opt out of receiving unwanted phone books.

"Part of the frustration not only in Chicago and Illinois but around the country: people don't want these all these phonebooks but they don't know what to do about it. There are a number of programs on the web but not all are actually viable," Cassel.

Alderman Moore says he will push for consumers to 'opt in' if they want the phone books.

"I certainly am going to talk to my colleagues and I'm going to talk to the phone companies to get their input. Ultimately that is the way to go unless we get a voluntary cooperation from the phone companies requiring them to do this opt-in measure," said Moore.

Ten states currently have legislation on the books regulating phone book deliveries. Illinois is not among them.

Yellow Pages industry executives say they too see a gradual move to the Internet but since they own and operate those databases as well, that isn't a problem. Until then, though, they plan to keep printing phone books and want it known that they aren't killing trees because the books, they say, are made from recycled directories and wood chips.

The Yellow Pages Association

Association of Directory Publishers

Click here to watch the YPA and ADP Consumer Choice Opt-Out video

Yellow Pages Public Policy Page regarding Opt-Out

Product Stewardship Institute (Phone Books)

Alderman Joe Moore's website

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