Tag Archives: Yellow Pages

About Those ‘8 Points About PSI’

By Scott Cassel, Chief Executive Officer & Founder, Product Stewardship Institute

mobile-phone-1425375-1600x1200In Waste360’s “Eight Points about PSI’s Phone Directory Sustainability Report,” the National Waste & Recycling Association’s (NWRA’s) Chaz Miller denounces PSI’s latest Sustainability Report Card for Telephone Directory Publishers as not making a “convincing case that [yellow pages phone books] are causing a problem.”

Well, we’re pretty convinced there’s a problem – in both accountability and sustainability.

Here’s why:

Miller states, “clearly you need some real data on the amount of directories and what the recovery rate is…”

The data the Local Search Association (LSA) cites publicly – a 67% recycling rate – combines many types of printed paper including newspaper recycling, making it impossible to understand where phone books lie. The last time the U.S. EPA measured the recycling rate of telephone directories alone (in 2009), the rate was 37%. We would love to find out the current recovery rate of telephone directories, and acknowledge any improvement.

The lack of publicly available data also paints a picture – publishers are happy to greenwash the public with vague statements about using sustainable paper, but unwilling to give the real data to back up their claims, despite PSI’s multiple requests for information.

In making use of what data is available, PSI found that only 23% of major publishers use paper from “sustainably managed forests” (and none identify a specific certification program); 15% offer support for recycling infrastructure; and only 31% of publishers specify the percentage of recycled content paper used in their books.

Miller states, regarding directories, “They’re absolutely invaluable for the white paper aspect… they’re trying to deliver information people can use. It’s a little imperious for PSI to say ‘it’s my way or the highway.’”

PSI believes that phone books do deliver information people can use, and by advocating for opt-in and opt-out programs, we seek to ensure that people who want phone books continue to receive them.

However, we also believe that all businesses have a responsibility to manage their products sustainably.

That is the goal of this report card: to shine light on those publishers following best practices in sustainability, and to encourage others to follow their lead. We have engaged with the industry in the past, holding a stakeholder meeting in 2008 and 2009. We’d like to do it again.

In short, we are more than happy to cooperate with the publishers to increase sustainability and transparency– if they are willing.

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A is for Accountability: First in the Phone Book?

phonebookwithfingers.pgBy Scott Cassel, Chief Executive Officer & Founder, Product Stewardship Institute

My father was a small businessman. He ran a four-person employment agency called Able Careers in Hackensack, New Jersey, and was proud of the jobs he got for his people. Each week, I watched him meticulously cut his advertisements out of the newspaper to make sure they were displayed correctly. And, of course, he was listed in the Yellow Pages. Able Careers was right at the top of the A column in the book under Employment Agencies.

That was then. When multiple phone books were stacked on everyone’s desk, and they were the bible for people, places, and things.

I don’t need to tell you that those days are over. But what has not stopped is the continuous printing and distribution of these books, which are often unwanted and not needed. Apparently, directory publishers have not found a way to match the advertising revenue over the internet that they make on printed directories. So they make them, and dump them on our doorsteps.

About ten years ago, PSI and our local and state government members educated the industry about how these books cost local governments about $60 million in management costs. Whether recycled or disposed, there is a cost to deal with phone books. And taxpayers pick up the tab for the industry. To their credit, and in response to PSI’s requests, the phone book industry developed an online system for residents to opt out of receiving the books. Unfortunately, PSI is still receiving citizen complaints. Only two publishers track opt out requests, and no one knows if they are being honored.

We asked the industry to discuss this with us. But, ever since they won a lawsuit against the City of Seattle, which wanted the industry to pay for developing its more robust opt out system a few years back, the industry association has shut down. They have stonewalled us.

In 2014, PSI decided to grade directory publishers on their sustainability efforts in three categories: opt out (including transparency); sustainable production (paper, ink); and recycling (education/financing). The Local Search Association (LSA) responded by not addressing any of the information in our report card, instead putting out a sustainability report that made unsubstantiated claims.

This year, we figured we would give the industry another chance to redeem themselves, and let them know we were again going to create a Sustainability Report Card to seek industry best practices on phone book sustainability.

Again, we were stonewalled. The response to our well researched report, delivered by Wesley Young of the LSA, was a flimsy infographic claiming that publishers reduced paper use over their lifetime and claiming an inflated recycling rate that they did not substantiate. Keep America Beautiful’s Brenda Pulley joined the LSA’s greenwashing efforts with a quote supporting them as a great partner (LSA funds KAB as a sponsor in the $5,000-$9,999 category).

Those of us in the environmental business know that there are entrenched interests, like directory publishers, who want to uphold the status quo and do not want outside forces, like PSI, meddling with their business. We are used to the climate change deniers, who would rather drown from melting icecaps than make decisions using sound data.

We expect this from dying industries like the LSA that cling to outdated ideas and fail to innovate. But what is their responsibility to you, the rest of America, which has to pay the price of phone books that are dumped on your doorstep?

Let’s face it, phone books are not the Number 1 environmental priority. I know that. They know that. But is this the way that industries should respond when presented with the fact that they are harming us? Why do we have to clean up their mess? And when we offer to help them, why are we met with greenwashing that evades the issues?

PSI has taken action. We have gathered the facts, which point to changes needed by publishers, even as some are following best practices. And we have presented them to you.

Now, what are you going to do about it?

Let Neg Norton at the LSA know what you think of his industry’s greenwashing. And while you’re at it, let Jennifer Jehn know that their funding from the LSA isn’t worth the harm it does to Keep America Beautiful’s reputation. Thank you.

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Phone Book Action

PSI recently launched a 30-second video on the problems associated with unwanted phone books, asking citizens around the country to take a stand for consumer choice and waste reduction. The video directs individuals to a Phone Books Action Page that provides action steps citizens can take, including opting out of receiving phone books and signing a petition in support of legislation. Please distribute these links to your contacts to encourage others to help reduce the proliferation of unwanted phone books, conserve natural resources, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and stop the use of taxpayer dollars to manage an industry problem.

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Harnessing Market Forces through Product Stewardship: A Step toward Global Competitiveness

Last week, in the President’s State of the Union address, he challenged the nation to tap into our entrepreneurial spirit so we can better compete against China, India, and other countries that have invested heavily in their own country’s future. He spoke of a role of government that is nuanced – one that can work with the market, where government can guide development through policies that make us more competitive.

Product stewardship seeks limited governance that sets broad parameters for market competition. It seeks a greater role for the private sector, shifting the management and financial burdens from often inefficient government practices to those driven by market forces. Managing products that we call “waste” is nothing but inefficiencies in the market. It is a market failure. And that failure has resulted in billions of dollars of taxpayer costs to subsidize businesses whose products are manufactured and sold without consideration for their social and environmental costs.

How is it possible that telephone directories are still produced and distributed across the United States at the current rate? No one knows for sure how many people still use them, although most people I talk to don’t, except perhaps my over-80 parents and a few die-hards. Over 660,000 tons of directories get plunked onto our doorsteps, pathways, driveways, and vestibules each year. Less than a quarter are recycled. All must be collected and recycled or disposed of by government and paid for by government, with complaints being dealt with by government. That is the same Government that Tea Party leaders want to get out of business and get out of the business of business. It is time to heed their call.

Phone books keep getting delivered at their current rate of excess because the external costs of managing the directories after they are kerplunked is paid for by taxpayers, all $64 million of it. Whether we use one or not, we are all subsidizing telephone companies like AT&T and Verizon, and independent directory publishers like Dex and Yellow Book. Not only are we paying financially for their inefficient ways, but these companies are not covering the true cost of their impacts on our environment. They do not pay for the greenhouse gas impacts that the production of directories causes, or the stress on our water or air as the result of factories producing books no one wants, or emissions from trucks that transport them, deliver them, and pick them up, or pollution from the facilities that recycle them or dispose of them.

I picked on phone books here because they are visible and a clear waste if no one wants them. But this argument can be made on all products produced worldwide. Some companies have taken steps to reduce the lifecycle impacts of their products, and these leaders should be applauded. Others have taken a lead on turning materials from used products into usable commodities.

The United States can be a global leader in competitiveness. We are still the world’s market powerhouse. Product stewardship can maintain this strength through the efficient use of our nation’s resources, whether they are mined from the earth or mined from our households and businesses after use. Product stewardship policies seek good governance, not NO governance. Government should not “get out of the way” and let business run rampant. Haven’t we seen that movie before with the crises from banking, housing, and credit card deregulation? The government’s role in good product stewardship programs is limited to setting parameters for industry, guiding it, enforcing against those who cheat and want a free ride, and encouraging companies that are the true leaders of innovation to succeed.

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A Yellow Pages Opt Out System for Seattle

On Monday, Oct 4th my colleagues and I on the Seattle City Council passed Council Bill 116954 establishing an opt-out system for yellow pages phone books in Seattle.

Before I get into the details of the ordinance, I want to talk about scale.  The challenges we face in our waste stream are massive – Seattle still sends a mile-long train of garbage to the landfill nearly every day.  Yellow pages directories are one of many products filling our garbage and recycling bins, and we know even if Seattle successfully eliminates 50% of the yellow pages delivered in the city that is merely a drop in the bucket.  I see two ways to scale our opt-out system up in a way that will transform today’s modest effort into something much more significant.  I hope those of you reading this blog will help.

The first is expanding the geographic scale.  Seattle will model a system that other jurisdictions can easily replicate by contracting with a third party vendor to build an opt-out list that other cities and states can easily join.  We believe we have devised a model that will withstand the legal challenges that the industry will almost certainly bring.  And I can attest to the political popularity of this effort – well over 95% of the comments we received were in support.

The second way is to scale to different sources of waste.  We believe this is the first time that producer responsibility principles have been used to address solid waste products that don’t have toxicity issues.  By law, all paper in Seattle must be recycled, but even then, this recycling of yellow pages costs the city and its ratepayers about $350,000 per year.  The yellow page industry profits by shifting these disposal costs to the public and our recovery fee puts that cost back on the Yellow Pages publishers.  This dynamic is not unique to the yellow page industry, and we need to identify the other areas where product life-cycle costs are being egregiously born by the public.

Now some specifics on what our ordinance does. For those of you who haven’t been following, the legislation does three things:

  1. Requires yellow pages distributors to obtain a city business license and file annual reports on the number and tonnage of yellow pages distributed in the city (distributor is defined as those who publish and arrange for the distribution of more than 4 tons of unsolicited yellow pages phone books annually).
  2. Creates a City of Seattle “opt-out” site.  Licensed publishers are required to download the names from this list 30 days prior to delivery and are not allowed to deliver to those on the list.
  3. Places a recovery fee of 14 cents/book on all yellow pages phone books distributed to cover the cost of administering the opt-out system and $148/ton to cover the cost of recycling.

The effort was fueled by local zero waste advocates who asked for help eliminating waste from unwanted yellow pages phone books.  This was followed by the City Council establishing phone books as one of our “zero waste” priority products for 2010-2011.

Seattle City Council Office with Stack of Phone BooksWhen Dex began its delivery cycle this summer, I received a set of directories despite having opted-out earlier in the year, and one of my aides received a Verizon Superpages book by simply moving to a new address in the same week.  In response, I posted an informal request for unwanted yellow pages books on my blog.  Soon my office was crammed full of books.  This was a photo opportunity and story that the press jumped at.  Over the summer the issue was featured on all four local tv stations, the news paper, and a couple radio news programs.  As the public response poured in, it was almost universal support.

As we drafted legislation, the Council looked at many options – both opt in and opt out – before settling on an opt-out system that really “works.”  For us, a functional opt-out system would both collect the preferences of as many people as possible, and would “work” on the back end, meaning if you opted out, you wouldn’t receive a yellow pages book.

Part of the challenge in either system is participation.  Many people simply won’t take the time to enroll in either an opt-in or opt-out system, making it difficult to capture actual preferences.   So, as the City of Seattle launches its opt-out list next spring, we’ll be working hard to communicate with and educate our residents and customers, making it easy to access the list and specify their preferences.  In addition to a user-friendly website, this means providing information in utility bills, via pre-paid postcards and educational pieces in language-specific newspapers and media.

We are hoping to create a system here in Seattle that other cities can model.  We’d love to hear about how other jurisdictions are managing yellow pages phone books and how we might coordinate a national effort to bring this to scale.Seattle City Council Office with Stacks of Phone Books

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