Lost in Seattle: Hello. Print Yellow Pages Aren’t Your Problem

The City of Seattle has just released their 2010 Recycling Rate Report.  In it, the city staff just gushes over their efforts to improve recycling rates:

“…Seattle’s goal to reach 60% recycling of municipal solid waste (MSW) by the year 2012, and 70% by 2025. In 2010, Seattle recycled 53.7% of its MSW, an increase of 2.6 percentage points over 2009. This is the largest increase in the recycling rate since 2006. The recycling rate has risen 15.5 percentage points since the 2003 low of 38.2%….”

Such a model city.  Kudos for increasing your recycling results.  But are things as peachy as they make it sound?  Not really.  When you dig a little deeper, you find that the city’s total municipal waste stream came to 335,570 tons.  As most you already know, Seattle has become the battleground for local governments overstepping their functions and legislating that phone books must be opt-out, making the publishers pay fees for distributing books within the city:

In 2010, the Seattle City Council passed legislation aimed at reducing the delivery of unwanted yellow pages phone books.  <<their evaluaiton, not the  industry’s>>  In May 2011, SPU launched an Internet database <<a duplicate of the industry association efforts already in place>>, which allows people to opt-out of receiving yellow pages and junk mail. The database works for residents living outside of Seattle as well. By the end of May 2011, nearly 30,000 households and businesses signed up and opted out of more than 185,400 yellow pages deliveries. This represents more than 150 tons of paper waste prevention.

Using the City of Seattle’s numbers, this illegal action which only
targets phone books, after all its promotion, after all of the complaints from
a small minority of residents, and despite the industry’s best efforts to
convince City legislators that this effort was a duplicate, job killing, small
business killer, has only managed  to save 150 tons out of a total waste stream of more than 335,00 tons. That comes to .0447%. All of this hoopla for less than a tenth of a percent.  That’s really sad and a true real waste of tax payer money.   Yet City leaders can’t see through their bubbles of recycling joy that  they should be more focused on the other 99.95% of their waste.  Phone books are NOT the problem people!!!

Fortunatley, the legal battle againist the City’s illegal ordinance is far from over.   The “CourtHouseNews.com” reports that the ball game is just getting started:

The 9th Circuit seems likely to stop enforcement of a new Seattle law that lets residents opt out of receiving phone books and requires yellow pages publishers to be licensed and pay 14 cents on every delivered book.

Last month, a federal judge granted partial summary judgment to the city, dismissing the publishers’ First Amendment and Commerce Clause claims. He separately refused their demand for an injunction.  Directories are commercial speech, and “common sense – the touchstone of the commercial speech doctrine – dictates that the yellow pages directories should not receive the highest level of protection afforded by the First Amendment,” U.S. District Judge James L. Robart wrote.

Dex Media West, SuperMedia and the Yellow Pages Association, which filed suit in November 2010, now want the 9th Circuit to grant an injunction pending appeal, saying the law violates their First Amendment rights.  The publishers presented their claims for emergency relief to the three-judge appellate panel on July 13.  The judges seemed sympathetic to the publishers’ request and saved most of their questions for the city of Seattle counsel Jessica Goldman.

Judge Edward Korman began by asking why the new rule doesn’t apply to all junk mail.  “There are many publications that are given out to which your ordinance doesn’t apply,” Korman said. “It only applies to the Yellow Pages. Why isn’t this a form of discrimination?

Judge Richard Clifton asked why “shopper”-type newspapers stuffed with ads are not addressed by the ordinance.  “It comes twice a week,” Clifton said. “It forms a stack a whole lot bigger than the phone book and the ordinance does nothing about that and the city is apparently not going to do anything about that.”

Goldman said she could not speak about what Seattle might do in the future, but this was a “first step.” She said that the city had a vested interest in preventing waste and protecting the privacy of residents, but the judges seemed skeptical about the privacy claim.

“When I find these books on my doorstep, I don’t think my privacy has been violated any more than when I find a food flyer from a local restaurant or takeout place,” Korman said. “I don’t understand that argument at all.”  Clifton said that he was also “mystified” by the privacy justification.

How does what Dex is doing – in attaching yellow pages to the directory – a further invasion of privacy?” he asked. “I see zero improvement of citizens’
privacy rights through this ordinance.”

Clifton called privacy a “red herring” and said he thought the
ordinance was strictly about waste.


2 responses to “Lost in Seattle: Hello. Print Yellow Pages Aren’t Your Problem

  1. Pingback: Seattle Green Efforts Come UP Way Short | YP Talk – The Voice of the Yellow Pages Industry

  2. Pingback: Judgement Day for City of Seattle Opt-out Folly | YP Talk - The Voice of the Yellow Pages Industry

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