Still Lost in Seattle — How NOT to Lower Your Municpal Waste Stream

The Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) anti-phonebook mongers were thumping their chests last week that “…more than 67,000 households and businesses signed up to stop phone books in 2011, and you’ve already stopped nearly 300 tons of paper from being used…”  (Source)

So let’s do the math.  The supposed indisputable source of knowledge on the always-correct Internet – Wikipedia, says that there were 258,499 households in the city of Seattle as of the 2000 census. Note:  this is only the city area, and doesn’t include the surrounding areas that may also receive a print phonebook called “Seattle”.  But let’s just use the Wikipedia number so industry critics can’t claim we stacked the results.  Some quick calculations say that’s assuming a 1-to-1 relationship of books to SPU “households”, that only comes to 26% of households that opted out.  However, that really is a slanted, incorrect calculation as we know many homes may receive more than one book, and businesses are not included in that total household count.  The interesting side bar on this is that industry research indicates that 75% of adults use the print books at least once a year.  The SPU numbers, if believable, support that industry research then.  By a 3 to 1 margin, people still like and use the phonebooks.  And this is the media that has been replaced, no one uses, etc., etc. etc., etc.

But wait, we’re not done yet.  You need to further evaluate the “success” of those 300 tons supposedly saved by what it took to achieve it.  As we noted in an August post, during July yellow post cards (ironic choice of color for the card don’t you think) were sent to 280,000 residence and business addresses by the SPU so that Seattleites who “….don’t have Internet access can select their phone book delivery preferences by mail.”  That little direct mail “spam” effort (where are you now Eddie Kohler) used over 4 TONS OF PAPER  How many of those 280K post cards, or 4 TONS OF PAPER do you think will be recycled??   Wonder why the SPU isn’t reporting on that???

Not only that, now the phonebook police are out for more blood (as in revenue for the city):

Did you receive a yellow pages phone book after opting out? If so, you can file a complaint online through your City of Seattle stop phone books account. If you submitted your opt-out request by phone or mail, call our automated phone line at (206) 504-3066 to submit a complaint. Yellow pages publishers will be held accountable, and even fined, if they fail to honor timely opt-out requests from Seattle residents and businesses.

Wow.  Such a “success”.  That’s’ something to be really proud of Seattle.  Instead, SPU and the elected leadership of the city should be embarrassed.

After all this noise and unfair targeting of the Yellow Pages industry, you’ve made virtually no dent in the one thing that accounts for less than one percent of your overall municipal waste stream.  Perhaps now you can focus on the other 99% that is the real problem.


8 responses to “Still Lost in Seattle — How NOT to Lower Your Municpal Waste Stream

  1. Thanks for the post and it’s interesting on different levels. Would you confirm that the 74% who did not opt-out of the yellow pages receive and use them?

    • Most recent industry usage statistics have 75% of adults using print yellow pages at least once a year.

      My turn. Since you are a big print atheist, can you tell me what percent of the 4 TONS of direct mail pieces that the Seattle PU sent out where recycled?? What don’t we know that number??

      One more for you: 9% of the average urban garbage dump consists of cardboard boxes. 1 ton of cardboard boxes is the equivalent of 17 trees.
      Recycling one ton of cardboard saves over 9 cubic yards of landfill space. Are you and your supporters planning to wage a campaign againist cardboard in Seattle?? You might get better environment results with that effort vs. phone books which only make up 0.03% of your municipal waste

      • at least once a year? My that’s some heavy use. If you guys were not complete dicks about how you write these posts, maybe people would have a little more sympathy for you.

      • I’m not sure the industry is looking for sympathy. A little consistency might be nice

  2. Thanks for the warm and courteous reply. It’s always appreciated, although I wouldn’t say I’m a paper atheist. I do believe that paper exists. In fact, I often use it for writing purposes.

    I don’t have an answer for you regarding direct mail and cardboard stats. From experience, direct mail campaigns do stop delivery to you when you ask.

    Out of the 74/75% who did not opt-out in Seattle, you can confirm that 0% went to the recycling bin or delivered to abandoned homes?

    Thanks as always.

    • Did PSU offer residents the option to “opt-out” of their direct mail piece???? Your kidding? Why not?

      Since I didn’t deliver any of the books in the Seattle area I can’t confirm if any were delivered to “abandoned homes” or how many went to the recycling bin. Can you confrim how many of the PSU direct mail pieces were delivered to “abandoned homes” or went directly to the recycled bin without being read?? I doubt it. But assuming a typical direct mail response rate of about 1% (at best), logic would say a lot of that 4 tons of post cards went straight to the landfill. That’s not good…

  3. Thanks again for your warm reply. My direct mail knowledge is limited and only know from experience that they generally stop delivery to you when you ask.

    This concept may be something leaders in the Phone Book Association could pass down to the delivery folks.

    • The publishers are honoring the requests. They have no reason not to. If you expect 100% perfection, it would be nice to give them a chance. Any new process needs the chance to work, and with approximatley 25% of the community changing on an annual basis, it’s not a static situation.

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