The end of the phonebook

Albert Kaufman

Phonebooks When was the last time you used a phonebook? When I ask most people that question, they just go into a rant about how many phonebooks they get, and what a nuisance they are. Multiply that discontent by millions of people. Now, add in the costs to our forests to cut down millions of trees (loss of species habitat, murky streams not great for aquatic life), the pollution created by making all of that paper, printing the books, gas used to deliver the books, gas used to take the books away via recycling + energy used to recycle the books and/or space taken up in landfills by these books.

Wow, that's a lot of wasted energy and cost for something most of us generally don't need/want anymore. In a time when cities and states are trying to cut costs - we could probably be saving ourselves a pretty penny by not having phonebooks around to the extent they are today - I think I get about 7 of these annually. Enter HB 3477, a piece of legislation put forward by Rep. Jules Kopel-Bailey which Rep. Ben Cannon has co-sponsored. The legislation basically says:

The Legislative Assembly finds that the annual, if not more frequent, distribution of hard copies of telephone directories by multiple publishers to persons at their residences without first determining whether such persons want or will use the directories constitutes both a waste and misuse of paper and natural resources and a harm to the environment without justification. The Legislative Assembly declares that it is in the public interest to establish a prohibition on the distribution of hard copies of telephone directories unless a person specifically requests the delivery of an identified telephone directory. (2) A person may not distribute a hard copy of a telephone directory to another person at the other person¬Ęs residence in this state unless specifically requested by the other person to do so. A request under this subsection may be made in writing or submitted using the Internet.

The next step for this legislation will be a hearing in the Rules Committee chaired by Rep. Roblan. I have also started a FB Cause to build a movement to support this legislation in Oregon and, hopefully, the rest of the country. Perhaps if we reduce the amount of phone books we won't need to keep clear-cutting our state forests? At a time when we're all looking with concern at climate change, we might seriously consider re-thinking anything that impacts our oxygen supply - like cutting down trees. If I were governor, I'd create a moratorium on tree cutting in Oregon. I mean we want to continue living here, right?

  • dan (unverified)

    I can finally agree with something on here.

    I hate the numerous phone books i get. Seriously we have the internet now phone books are useless.

    I have got three already since this year began.

    What a waste!

    and another thing. we should eliminate junk mail. so much waste that i dont hardly read but just toss in the trash.

  • Greg D. (unverified)

    Eliminating phone books is a great idea. I have not used one in years. I use my computer or dial 411 on my cell phone.

    You will be eliminating quite a few jobs. Lots of people are employed selling those clever "yellow page" advertisements to all the chiropractors, personal injury attorneys, siding companies, and dog groomers. Without universal distribution of the yellow-pages, I suspect the advertising rates would drop so low as to make publication of phone books an unprofitable activity for all concerned.

  • Terry O (unverified)

    I agree with 99.9% of your post. Everything pertaining to the phone book and banning delivery of them without a specific request.

    <italic>If I were governor, I'd create a moratorium on tree cutting in Oregon. I mean we want to continue living here, right?

    I don't know the financial impact of that, or if your comment was even serious or just off the cuff. But I think the cost of shutting down the mills, logging trucks, loggers, logging towns, etc..... Ouch.

  • Eric Parker (unverified)

    Actually, they are better than Presto Logs in the fireplace...and they're free...

  • Save a Tree - Ban Books! (unverified)

    Maybe we should just have the legislator prohibit the delivery of all hardcopy communications between people without their express written consent (electronic and with all the cost and economic discrimination that implies of course)? And they can call it a stimulus measure because then we can hire people to police the "No Written Communications" regulations. How about that too?

    Albert, people like you, Jules, and Ben are starting to show how selfishly anti-social, and just plain stupid, the embarrassing fringe of the progressive movement have become. Clearly on the day God handed on IQ points, a whole group of people who later became childish left wing and right wing wingnuts just couldn't be bothered to get in line.

    Of course, any person with an normal IQ would have reflexively realized that the adult way is to have an opt-out system (yes, I'd support that). Like a postcard attached to what presumably would be the last hardcopy of a phonebook you'd ever get and website for those who prefer to being wasteful consumers. It is arrogant jerkitude, something that also seems to be in overabundence in the NW, maybe because it is connected with moss and brain-decay, to even assert you should be making the opt-out decision for others in our form of democracy and instead force them to opt-in.

    You put your name on a list to get a phone-book, you recycled tree terrorist, we've keeping our eyes on you!

    God help us, are there any adults with an normal IQ left in the Democratic Party or the Republican Party to put the stupid, bratty children in time out? Unfortunately, it appears increasingly to not be the case since most of our legislators are, like Ben, pulling all kind of idiocy out of their backside in this session because they really doesn't have the capability to do anything else except try to get their name in the press. They just don't realize how stupid and ugly they are making themselves look.

  • Roy McAvoy (unverified)

    Bravo! Next we can begin to work on eliminating the number of political ads we get in the mail around election time.

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    "Of course, any person with an normal IQ would have reflexively realized that the adult way is to have an opt-out system"

    Why is this superior to opt-in, exactly?

  • zull (unverified)

    Last time I used a phone book was 2001. My Internet connection was down and I needed to look something up. Since then, I've had a phone with a data plan.

    I actually would love to stop getting these things, really, I would. But they just keep coming, and they keep cluttering up my recycling area. I always forget to bring them out, and for half a second, think I might possibly have a use for them, so they stay. Even then, all that information is online and it's much quicker to get what I want.

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    opt-in is going to be problematic, particularly the letting-people-know-about-it part. a lot of seniors, in particular, will wonder why they haven't got their new phone book and not know where to call. people in rural and other areas with poor internet access; people who don't use computers. i think opt-in is the way to go, but there needs to be a lot of sensitivity to those who will be impacted by the loss of the books simply not showing up. that's a larger group than may be considered at this point.

  • Save a Tree - Ban Books! (unverified)
    "Of course, any person with an normal IQ would have reflexively realized that the adult way is to have an opt-out system"

    torridjoe, you're a one of the net addicts do your own research on the sociology of opt-out and opt-in instead of being passive-aggressive and/or lazy expecting others to do your work for you. Or just read the rest of the comment. Those of us who are well-versed in the politics and sociology of participation and consent are quite comfortable in the social justice of the opt-out approach as the progressive approach in this case and of the opt-in as the typically NW regressive approach.

    In other words, I don't have to convince you, I just need to make sure the decision makers know they are going to be publicly exposed as jackasses if they listen to the stupid-contingent of the peers.

  • Joel H (unverified)

    This seems rather heavy handed and unnecessary. Isn't this phone book distribution just plain old littering? What's the difference? If I left a phone book in Pioneer Square, that would be littering. Is my porch some sort of designated literature dropoff point?

    And why single out phone books? After I bought a house, I got unsolicited copies of the Oregonian for a while, which I hated just as much. (I successfully composted them.) And I'd just as soon have get copies of The Watchtower stuck in my door. I don't believe any of this constitutes protected free speech, really.

    And while we're at it, can we finally stop subsidizing junk mail delivery?

  • Save A Tree - Ban Books! (unverified)

    I don't believe any of this constitutes protected free speech, really.

    The beauty of Joel H's comment is that some can read it as completely serious endorsement of their position, and some can read it as a very subtle "Modest Proposal". (Court decisions aside).

    For Joel, that either means s/he is a master of the language, or completely oblivious.

    Touche' Joel for the most enigmatic comment in this thread and I'll bet the blogosphere today!

    Anybody able to puzzle out with Joel H's contribution how opt-out for sure sidesteps any free speech issues while opt-in steps right in the middle of a free-speech cowpie?

    Save A Tree - Ban Books! And Free Newspapers!

  • Joel H (unverified)

    Save a Tree -- Suppose thousands of us pulled a "Miracle on 34th Street" move and, all at once, dumped the phone books we receive on YOUR porch, burying your front door in yellow pages. Would that still be free speech? Send me a postcard if you'd like to opt out.

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    Before she was on the city council, Amanda Fritz was poking around about this issue. Whatever happened to that?

    Seems to me that dumping a big block of newsprint on my property without my permission is nothing more than basic littering. They should be fined, under existing law.

  • Tom Vail (unverified)

    Truly Amazing. How many jobs are you proposing to eliminate and what will be the cost to the taxpayers to support those who lose their jobs?

  • Scott in Damascus (unverified)

    Yeah Ban Books! dude:

    Of course, any person with an normal IQ would have reflexively realized that the adult way would have been not to invaded Iraq, not hired political flunkies as the head of FEMA, and not authorized the torture of anyone anywhere.

    But what do I know - I'm just an embarrassing fringe member of the progressive movement.

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    TA, I'm pretty sure seniors know when your phone book doesn't arrive, you call the phone company. ??

    As for the sociology of opt-in/out: I do get it, thank you. The result of opt-out is that far more books will be delivered, than households who want them, either by laziness or ignorance. With opt-in, only those who want them will receive them. Not a single wasted book would be distributed in that case.

  • Joel H (unverified)

    I strongly doubt this legislation would prohibit Qwest from sending their customers phone books, which I as I recall you actually do explicitly request when you sign up for landline service.

  • OnemuleTeam (unverified)

    I like the opt-in idea. Also, I used a phone book last week and for those of you who may be wondering, I do have a cell phone, (3G network even) and internet service.

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    Kari asked what's new at the City (cause Amanda Fritz was working on this issue a while back). They sent out this memo recently. Though I feel this is a good step, I was advised that the State level would be the best place to get an opt-in system going.

    From: Butman, Laurel Sent: Tuesday, November 18, 2008 5:19 PM To: Citywide All Employees Distribution List Subject: SUSTAINABILITY: Citywide effort will save 105 trees a year!

    To All City Employees -

    In an effort to further promote the green movement at City offices, the OMF Sustainability Team, in partnership with Bureau of Technology Services/Telecom Operations, is requesting that DEX discontinue the delivery of thousands of phone directories to the City's core buildings. Delivery typically occurs at the end of November and into December.

    Instead, each bureau/floor will receive five directories for placement in conference rooms or other locations where there are phones but no computers. Because even these directories may be unnecessary, we will most likely phase this out next year also. Each bureau phone coordinator will then become responsible for placing a call to DEX for ordering any needed directories. Non-core buildings will also be removed from the delivery cycle next year.

    Going forward, we ask that you access the on-line version of the DEX directory - for both the white pages and yellow pages. Just use the following link:

    o (top right)

    We suggest you add it as a "Favorite" for quick reference in the future.

    Quick Facts...

    Across the nation, over 500 million of these directories are printed every year. These directories produce a staggering amount of waste, not only in terms of misused natural resources but also in filling of valuable landfill space. To produce 500 million books: 19 million trees need to be harvested (this equates to approximately 105 trees for the number of directories previously delivered to the City in any given year)
    1.6 billion pounds of paper are wasted
    7.2 million barrels of oil are spent in their processing (not including the gas used for their delivery to your doorstep)
    268,000 cubic yards of landfill are taken up
    3.2 billion kilowatt hours of electricity are squandered

  • Idaho River Journeys (unverified)

    Qwest will never go along. There have been no phonebooks for years. I lived across the street from what was listed in that piece of crap they throw against your door for five years, and it had been out of business for 3 years before I moved there. As of last month's update, it is still listed.

    It is packaged to resemble a phone book, so that they can toss reams of advertising at your door. Ditto the Oregonian and their "free papers". I have fought as an apartment dwellers advocate for 15 years and have beat my head against the wall on both of those.

    Bottom line is they don't give a shit. Opt out? Just why can't an apartment complex manager or homeowner serve them notice that they don't want that trash on their property? More and more "progressive" legislation is about writing new laws to circumvent the ones that aren't honored.

    And it's worse on the environment than you think. 99% of those "deliveries" are by unemployed folks that fire up the old oil burner to make a short trip with lots and lots of stops, the best way to pollute with a motor vehicle. Everything Qwest does is a fraud. Why should the directories be different? For years they were too good to pay the municipal franchise tax. Analyze the statement "we don't sell your number to marketers" sometime. Except for their partners, which is every loathsome saturation marketer on the planet.

  • Save A Tree - Ban Books! It's the NW Way! (unverified)

    Of course, any person with an normal IQ would have reflexively realized that the adult way would have been not to invaded Iraq, not hired political flunkies as the head of FEMA, and not authorized the torture of anyone anywhere.

    Scott in Damascus. I agree with you 100% on this and raise you one more stupid war I opposed in Afghanistan from day we knew a lot of the right and left were going to do something stupider than Iraq.

    I also think we have a brain-dead jackass contingent on our side that are as brain-dead as the jackass contingent on the right. And "You Just Might Be A B-D J-A ... If" you jump from someone calling BS on this dumbass OPT-IN phonebook proposal, (and in fact only to the B-D J-A OPT-IN part but who supports it if it is OPT-OUT, to the conclusion someone is a right-wing supporter of war, torture, the craven destruction of New Orleans, etc., etc.

    Suppose thousands of us pulled a "Miracle on 34th Street" move and, all at once, dumped the phone books we receive on YOUR porch, burying your front door in yellow pages.

    Joel H., you still manage, barely, to hang on to the distinction of having the most enigmatic comment on the web today. Just to help you retain that distinction rather than resolve it towards an unfavorable answer of "You Might Be A B-D J-A .... If", there is a little bit of difference between three entities (that's how many phonebooks I get) over the course of twelve months giving me a phonebook (which I happen to use a lot), and a bunch of clowns from the B-D J-A contingent of the left dropping tens of phonebooks on anyone's porch as a B-D J-A protest. There is a little thing in the free speech laws as they have come to be exercised known as reasonable "time, place, and manner" restrictions.

    torridjoe, you and Kari have already provided an answer to the question "You Might be a B-D J-A ... If" question with your comments. But you're bloggers who, like Michelle Malkin, Ann Coulter, and the B-D J-A bloggers on the right, recognize being a B-D J-A on the left is better than almost any to build a valuable personal brand on the internet.

    NO torridjoe you don't know the sociological assumptions and biases implicit in the different between "opt-out" and "opt-in" in this case. Here's two hints for those who really don't think it's cool, yuk, yuk, to be in the crowd who proudly self-identifies with "You Might be a B-D J-A .. if":

    Hint #1: Read again the selfish, oblivious arguments the majority of supporters are giving here why they don't need a phonebook.

    Hint #2: It doesn't have anything to do with the fact they are so oblivious and anti-social they never need to find out a phone number or address they don't know.

    Save A Tree! --- Ban Books! (Poor People - Buy More Electronics You Can't Afford, Manufactured by Low-Paid Wage Slaves In China Who Got Your Jobs! It's A Stimulus Plan!)

  • rw (unverified)

    Here is a problem with doing away with them: it is getting harder and harder to find a tel number that is correct online, particularly when it is for a business. How many times did you try to call Providence, selected the MAIN number or the one you wanted, and some grandma in billing kindly told you it was never this number; or got a fax screa;m in your ear; or were bothering the frantic triage nurse in the middle of an ER mosh pit scene? If you want to do away wiht those tel books, then attend to the alternative: paying for the access and no accountability on the parts of those already offering half-assed internet tel search...

  • twrosch (unverified)

    I use the yellow pages frequently - and I'm a frequent user of web info, so I'm no Luddite. My problem with the phone books is the proliferation of versions - none of which compare well to the old monopoly.

    I like using the Yellow pages, I feel I get more info from them (especially for businesses that don't have a web presence), and I get frustrated by the online services. I like to browse, I like to see my local businesses, and I don't want a lot of things that don't apply to my search.

    If the yellow pages were a truly comprehensive listing of local businesses and they had an opt out clause for those who don't want their info on paper, I think it would be the best of all worlds. But this isn't that world, so I'll live with what we have.

    I do agree with a comment above, though: please don't deny people something they use, just because you don't. An informal poll on a blog (Yes, David Pogue is doing the same thing) self-selects for just those kind of folks who say it isn't needed.

  • paper user (unverified)

    I use the phone book and the yellow pages. Since I only have a very slow land line internet connection at home, so it is much easier to use the paper version of the phone book/yellow pages.

    I would support an opt out system, where you would include a postcard in each copy of the phone book which you can send back to opt out.

    As for an opt in system how would you organize it?

    PS: I also like the smell of the phone book.

  • Jim Niarchos (unverified)

    I have heard a lot of well intended comments here but remember, all the problem with too many telephone directories started to be a problem when people were getting so many. In other words, the only people that should be putting out a telephone directory are telephone companies. Duh?!?! Every house gets one comprehensive official telephone directory from the telephone company governed (as always) by ther PSC (Public Service Commission). I heard one person give an example that they received seven different telephone books so far this year. Well, based on that number you could eliminate 85% of your problem without doing away with the origianl search engine...the Yellow Pages. Sounds to me like a more than reasonable compromise instead of an all or nothing approach.

  • Joel H (unverified)

    Unfortunately, it does appear that the use of littering laws and special ordinances to stop advertisers (and political protesters, and the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society) from dumping their trash on private property has a long history of being overturned on First Amendement grounds:

  • (Show?)


    If I remember correctly, Qwest sold its phonebook publication in 2002 and it now belongs to a different company. This all took place back in 2001-2002 when the huge scandle happened with Qwest happened and they got caught fudging the numbers on their books. The companies stock plummeted to like pennies on the dollar and they just about went into bankruptcy.

    Anyway, here is the link:

  • dartagnan (unverified)

    Okay, maybe I'm a hopeless fogey, but I still use the phone book quite often. It's often quicker and more convenient than searching for a number on line. And it's portable.

    That said, I see no reason to have two, three, four or more different printed phone books delivered to my house

  • SwamiSam (unverified)

    What has barely been mentioned in this discussion is why is the legislature's job to decide which areas of commerce are good and bad, and then insert the government into the equation? Where would this stop?

    If phone books are a "waste," then so too are dozens, if not hundreds of other commercial endeavors that use resources to provide unsolicited advertisements.

    Will we ban those too? Remember, folks, this is commerce. That means people are employed by selling the ads, and businesses find those ads effective enough to buy them. Others are employed printing, and distributing the books. Others are employed producing and selling the raw materials that go into them.

    So we are just going to shut this down because in the judgement of the legislature it is wasteful?

    Anybody have any other job-killing ideas, since we have such a surplus of jobs here in Oregon, now is a great time to cut the ones we really don't like.


  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)

    Albert, how gald we are that you ARE NOT governor. People like you would balkanize the majority of Oregon and attempt to round us all up for the cities of Portland, Eugene and Salem.

    For the record, I used our phonebook this morning. A panic call from a High School Senior working on his Senior Project had me calling around to try and get him help this morning because half of his folks bailed on him.

  • George Anonymuncule Seldes (unverified)

    So far this seems to have partially worked for us -- we haven't received any real phone books since requesting that they stop.

    We're still getting the off-brand ripoff books.

  • George Anonymuncule Seldes (unverified)

    While we're tinkering with phone directories, we can also make an improvement by no longer violating peoples' privacy by making them pay to be unlisted.

    The Lege should direct the PUC to modify the utility rules to limit directory listings to residences who have specifically consent to be listed. You should have the same privacy rights in your phone number as you do for your video rentals -- i.e., it's not the phone company's property to sell, it's yours. If you want to share your number with others, great; but if not, then you shouldn't have to pay for privacy.

  • conspiracyzach (unverified)

    If anyone in Salem really gave a damn what people think or about the ENVIRONMENT there would be a video link to each city hall from Salem so we could testify on important bills(without having to drive there). The truth is they care about neither the public or the environment so they take up little BS pet issues like this so they can pretend to save the earth. I imagine what is really going on is that the phone book printing company is a month late on their P.A.C. donation to the usual suspects. This bill will probably got hatched to remind them to send it in.

  • Old Ducker (unverified)

    Terry O. writes, "If I were governor, I'd create a moratorium on tree cutting in Oregon."

    Thank god you're not! We have 10%+ unemployment and you want to destroy one of the few industries left that actually produce your "living wage." You also must hate public education since a lot of it is financed by timber severance taxes in rural counties.

    Let me guess, you live in Portland...

  • Bobo (unverified)

    Oregon has a Constitution with more protections than that provided by the U.S. Constitution. So, talk of whether or not this meets "free speech" standards is sort of beside the point when Oregon protects "free expression". When you start to contemplate all the expressive ad content contained inside each phone book, it's pretty obvious this bill has an Oregon Constitution problem.

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    While the legislation was being drafted some of the OR Constitutional issues were raised, below are some websites to the issue. Btw, I asked my Representative to create this legislation (note to conspiracyzach).

    And, to Old Ducker - I think we're in a crisis situation today where oxygen may be more important than jobs. If we can't breath, grow food, etc. then jobs (no matter what they pay) don't really matter. If our jobs are doing harm to the planet which will make this place unlivable for humans, then they should not be protected.

    Here's the info. by the way, the legislation will get a hearing in the Rules committee, I've just learned.

    Moser v. Frohnmayer, 315 Or. 372,379 (1993) "a harm to the environment without justification"

  • Steve Rosenbaum (unverified)

    Sound like good legislation.

    Was this inspired by the Sir Mix-A-Lot Burger King Commercial?

  • Steverino (unverified)

    And, to Old Ducker - I think we're in a crisis situation today where oxygen may be more important than jobs.

    Spoke like a public employee. Are you? I nominate your job to be the first casualty.

  • Terry Parker (unverified)

    What needs to be stopped is all that social engineering junk and propaganda that comes with utility bills including from the Portland Water Bureau, PGE, Pacific Power, NW Natural Gas and others. Some people actually use phone books.

  • Kelley (unverified)

    I did my part and contacted my state rep in OR, and also for my mom in WA suggested the legislation to her reps.

    And I didn't read all the comments - but it sounds like some people who use phone books need to realize that this isn't doing away with phone books - it's just that now you have to ask for one rather than get it automatically, so you can still get a phone book, just you wont if you don't want it or use it. Sounds fair I think.

  • Printed Matter (unverified)

    All books (of all kinds) should be eliminated from shcools too thereby saving the taxpayers millions of dollars. Schools have computers don't they? There is no need for taxpayers to fund both!!!

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    Great article in the Portland Tribune on this today.

    article link

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    Right. Phone books are a huge contributor to clear cutting! Stupidity reigns!!! Where is common sense? Right, none with these liberal nut jobs. Ever wonder why there are so many forest fires in the recent years? Maybe because people like you don't want loggers doing their job? Clear cutting is a minority, the majority actually preserves our forest without tax payers needing to pay for it by removing dead trees that serve as fuel in these fires! Idiocy!!!! Wake up.

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