Yellow Pages and the environment

Just about everyone has a Yellow Pages in their country. These tomes are usually huge and given the availability these days of online versions, are pretty much just paper spam to many they are forced upon.

The North American Yellow Pages print distribution is around 540 million directories annually. That’s substantially more copies than the entire population! Why? Up until recently, everyone with a landline received a copy; but with a switch to mobile communications, the YP marketing boffins figured that some folks were missing out, so they engaged in a saturation distribution campaign according to

While countries such as Australia recycle up to 70% of each Yellow Pages run, which is great, the remaining 30% still represents millions of copies and what is recycled does nothing towards the costs, energy, emissions and other pollutants involved in creating that paper in the first place.

Imagine how many trees, how much ink must go into creating these large books! Imagine the transport costs of shifting all these books around the country!

According to Yellow Pages Goes Green, in the USA alone the 540 million directories represents:

– 19 million trees to provide the paper
– 1.6 billion pounds of paper wastage
– 7.2 million barrels of oil (not including delivery)
– 268,000 cubic yards of landfill
– 3.2 billion kilowatt hours of electricity consumption

I’m a little confused on the tree issue as the Yellow Pages Group states it uses a blend of post-consumer fibre content and thermo-mechanical pulp made from wood chips. Regardless, there’s still a lot of energy and resources involved in producing these often massive directories.

I worked for a printer churning out the Yellow Pages years ago and the amount of waste involved was startling – multiple dumpsters were filled each 24 hours during the print run – and that edition just covered a reasonably small area. However, it was encouraging to see on the Yellow Pages Group site that they are taking steps towards reducing this sort of waste.

An ad in the Yellow Pages is incredibly expensive, running into the tens of thousands of dollars.  I feel the Yellow Pages paper versions are trading on their old reputation when they were indeed the go-to source for business information. They aren’t keen to let go as the industry is valued at more than US$31 billion worldwide, with the vast majority of that figure coming from paper-based directory ad sales.

The Yellow Pages may be a very useful tool, but the Internet has changed the way most of us access it. They are delivered to hundreds of millions of homes globally, but how many people actually use them these days?

While I’m sure some people would wish to continue receiving the paper version, there really needs to be an *easy* way for consumers to stop delivery.

Canceling Yellow Pages delivery

I can’t remember the last time we used a Yellow Pages, so I set about trying to find out how to opt out of receiving it.

I noticed no mention whatsoever of opt out processes on the Yellow Pages Group environmental commitment page; yet this is a major step they could take in reducing their impact.

There’s no direct opt-out for the USA, UK, Australia and Canada that I could find, so it seems the best bet is via Paperless Petition, which covers all these countries.

The petition challenges the Yellow Pages Association (YPA) to move to a strictly on-demand system of directory distribution and in the interim, acts as an opt-out registry that the YPA supposedly must respect.

Folks in the USA may want to hedge their bets by also signing up at Yellow Pages Go Green

Recycling Yellow Pages

Thankfully, recycling a Yellow Pages directory is as easy as hoiking it into your recycling bin in most countries these days; however you should check with your local recycling authority first.

Uses for Yellow Pages

If you can’t throw your Yellow Pages into a recycling bin, here’s a few ideas for reusing it.

– Packing material
– Shredded, wet, then compressed into bricks for wood fires
– Paper mache crafts
– Useful as food for a worm farm
– Bird cage liners and general pet cleanup chores
– Wet and mold into biodegradable seedling pots

Just in regards to using your Yellow Pages for composting and worm feed, you should probably check with your local YP publisher to ensure the ink used is vegetable/soy/water based.

Given the size and weight of these books, I’d hazard a guess that with a little (earth friendly) fire retardant and sealer added, they could also be used as bricks for building a house :).

If you have any more suggestions for reusing yellow page, please add them below!

I feel it’s way past time that the Yellow Pages Association phased out the saturation distribution of the paper based directory. Sure, it’s a lot of money to miss out on, but by refocusing resources on marketing and improving their online services, I’m sure the agencies involved could make up the difference. This would show a *real* environmental commitment.