Tag Archives: recycling phone books

Pablo knows: Lifetime of Smart Phones over 11X MORE Environmental Impact Than Lifetime of Phone Books.

Last February, as the industry was at the peak of fighting the anti-print eco nuts, we took a deep dive into what really goes into all of those high-tech devices we all now can’t live without, focusing on exactly what happens when people discard them (regularly) and move on to the next device.

In the Dirty Little Environmental Secrets Print Haters Don’t Want to Talk About article, we revealed some alarming stats:

But only about 14% of the computers components and materials can actually be recycled into usable materials. What’s in E waste?? Among the many hazardous materials harmful to human health and the environment are: lead, mercury, arsenic, barium, beryllium, cadmium, chromium, to name just a few (for more, go here). EPA numbers indicate that only about 18% of the 3,000,000 tons of used electronics in the US are actually recycled. Let’s compare that with EPA’s estimate that 57% of the paper consumed in the US was recovered for recycling in 2008.

The silence from our critics was deafening.  I never heard from any of them.  Not a one.

As we are in the midst of a heavy time for delivery of books, the din from the haters has again swelled. The new comers to the anti-phonebook team love to jump in with all kinds of pronouncements (most without any factual basis) that phonebooks are killing the planet in so many ways.  But its refreshing when you get to see something online who actually gets it right.

The treehugger.com website has a regular writer Pablo Paster, who actually did his homework recently in this blogAfter calculating the impact of an annual directory, he then compared the environmental impact to a digital alternative — the much treasured iPhone.  The conclusionthe carbon footprint is 3.1 kg CO2e per phone book.  Over a lifetime of phonebooks, that would come to 186 kg CO2. Using just an iPhone, it has 70 kg CO2 which adds up to 2.1 metric tonnes of CO2  over a lifetime of smart phones.  Net net:  “a lifetime of smart phones has over eleven times the impact of a lifetime of phone books.”

Pablo then tries to even the playing field with all of the other devices that an iPhone could replace.  But it starts to sound a bit weak especially if he had dug deeper on what the disposal impacts for an iPhone are vs. a phonebook.

All in all I have to congratulate the guy on doing an honest assessment.  It’s refreshing to see that someone will admit that all technology isn’t necessarily the slam dunk eco alternative to a phonebook that they are made out to be.  And don’t get me wrong, I love my iPhone.  But that print phonebook requires no ongoing power, no special routers, no Internet connection, is full portable, can be used easily by nearly 100% of the reading population, and is distributed FREE.  Sounds like a real bargain to me….

Print Yellow Pages Aren’t Junk Mail

Back in 2007 (http://www.yptalk.com/archive.cfm?ID=303&CatID=14) I wrote about how the perception that print yellow pages are the root cause of congested landfills and increased government trash waste doesn’t match the reality of what the typical household receives, and then needs to discard (99% of which is not recycled) in the way of junk mail.  To prove my point I compare one year of directories received to just three months of junk mail that arrived.  Over the course of a year, the pile of junk mail will far exceed the pile of print yellow pages.

I am happy to report that some recent tests have yielded similar findings.  Most recently, I received a note from Jeremy Snyder, the General Sales Manager at the Tarheel Pages.  I have cut down some of his analysis to get to the results of the similar test he did:

January 1, 2011 I started collecting every piece of unsolicited junk snail mail that came into my mailbox at my aforementioned house.  I kept a box in the corner of the kitchen and instructed my wife to throw any piece of advertising material into the box.  Any piece of mail that was not a bill, something she had a subscription for, or personal mail was to be thrown in that “junk mail” box.  We have it in our emails to weed out junk in our cyber life, I decided to make one for our physical life.  This is a true to life comparison, and anyone who wants to come and check the actual data is more than welcome, as it still sits in a big box (my wife WOULD NOT let me keep it lying on the floor!) I can’t say I was surprised by the outcome (which I concluded on December 31, 2011), but I was astounded when you compare it to a Phone Book.  I did a side by side comparison to the Phone Books delivered to the RTP Area of North Carolina including Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill’s Phone book.  It’s amazing, and like Judge Korman mentioned, a form of discrimination, to realize that this unsolicited junk mail comes every single day into our mail boxes or post office boxes.  Whether it’s one or two or three pieces a day, you can see just how it adds up over 365 days!! Yet a phone directory that is delivered ONCE every year garners all the negative news about usage (or lack thereof) and wastefulness.

Philadelphia Flyers goalie, Ilya Bryzgalov recently stated,  “The solar system is sooo humongous big, right?! But if you see our solar system and our galaxy on the side, it was so small.”  It’s all about perspective!  I try to get my sales reps to encourage customers to look at the big picture in everything we do.  What we need to ask ourselves, or better yet, what all the naysayers need to ask themselves is, “Do we really think that taking away phone books and destroying thousands of jobs in its wake is, right now, something that is best for what’s happening in our Country (or World)???”

But I’ve come to find out that Jeremy’s fine effort hasn’t been the only test.  Thanks to Bob Tacey, Jr. the Founder/President of Modern Creative Seminars (Tacy Speaks) who also reminded me about a similar finding from Ron Mintle at Yellow Magic.  Ron ran a similar test just a couple of years ago and posted the actual weights of the two different media it on their  company blog (http://www.yellowmagicblog.blogspot.com/).  Here it is:

What I was interested in finding out was what would weigh more, the four Yellow Pages Directories I’ve got in my home, or all the junkmail I collect over the period of 12 months?

I didn’t have to wait very long to find out. Just four months after I’d started with my little experiment, I’ve got some interesting numbers for you. Now of course these may not be valid for everyone, but I couldn’t find anyone else that was crazy enough to have kept their junk mail for four months, which already tells you something…

So, here are the numbers. The junk mail weighed in at 12 pounds & all four of my Yellow Pages Directories together amounted to 9.4 pounds!
It means I collected 3 pounds of junk mail per month. If you do the math & extrapolate, that amounts to 36 pounds of junk mail per year! I’m pretty confident that after a year, those Yellow Pages Directories would still be 9.4 pounds & unlike the junk mail, each of those Yellow Pages are still useful.

Where’s my Yellow Pages? Next to my phone 🙂

So there you have it – three different tests in three different parts of the country and the results are identical.

Note to municipal governmentsPrint yellow pages directories are not your biggest problem in your waste streams.  You can save a heck of a lot more if you would just focus on the main culprits driving up your costs – cardboard, newspapers, and JUNK MAIL.

Let me close with some final words from Jeremy Snyder‘s note, words the industry should embrace:

As many of you in and out of the industry know, we are being inundated with negative perceptions.  These perceptions (and they ARE perceptions) of our extinction have increasingly grown over the last few years.  It makes our jobs harder and harder to convince the small business owner (and mainstream media) that for over 150 years Yellow Pages helped literally millions of small businesses around the world reach the consumer at a point when they are ready to BUY!  In 2008 the Wall Street Journal published an article about the “Extinction of Yellow Pages”. It was full of misstatements of facts, but yet no one ever responded when the Yellow Page Associations tried to contact and defend ourselves.  Now, 3 years later, the blogosphere and online marketing companies (who have a vested interest in YP death) create this “virus” (Irony?).  A virus of the mind which infects the business owners, the general consumer, and even local governments.  Starting in the urban areas that are more technologically savvy and slowly but surely making its way to Small Business America and the everyday consumers.

Folks, isn’t it time to start fighting back on all these misconceptions, lies, and complete mistruths??

And now they want your phonebooks…

A lot of discussion is going on over at Andrew Breitbart’s Big Government site on a topic near and dear to those of us in the industry – this fanatical
urge to want ban phonebooks

Finally, someone presented all of the factors:

:… But is banning the phone book really the best way to save trees? A quick rundown of some key statistics puts two very key holes in the “ban the phone book” theory of  environmental reclamation. First, as it turns out, the Yellow Pages aren’t actually made from five million fresh trees, cut down in their peak to bring the phone book to your door. They’re actually made from mostly recycled material or the byproducts of other paper manufacturing, non-toxic dyes, and inks, and unused directories are “upcycled” into other things. You know that coffee cup that your non-fat soy latte with non-dairy whip comes in every morning, that says it comes from “90% recycled materials?” It’s likely made out of your old phone books.

And although city councils and environmental groups like to pretend  that just because elementary school students and hipsters practically see their laptops as a fifth limb, not everyone uses Google search and Yelp to locate local resources. The Baby Boomer generation, which makes up a huge chunk of American disposable income (and holds nearly 50% of American wealth) uses the Yellow Pages at a staggering rate.  Almost 85% of Boomers picked one up last year to search for a name, address or local resource. And as for that “perpetually connected” generation, Gen Y? Nearly 66% of them used Yellow Pages last year. Nearly 50% of all consumers turn to the Yellow Pages first to get information on businesses in their area. And, of course, that’s leaving out specific statistics on the population that liberals most often forget to consider–lower-income populations. Lower-income populations without continued access to the Internet are the most in need of a resource for directory

In a related item, the Valley Yellow Pages people have also posted a great little YouTube video to further address the many myths that surround the entire green/yellow pages/recycling discussion:  click here.  Every publisher should consider doing a similar clip and making sure their local government officials see it (can we make it required viewing??).

YP Talk has advocated for some time that it is time for this industry to start pushing back, to respond to these egregious accusations/mistruths/flat
out lies, and set the record straight.   Glad to see some progress is finally being made.  But the battle is far from over.  Keep educating your local community on the value that our industry products bring to them.   At the end of day, I doubt you will see any of these environmental zealots looking to help a small business market themselves.  They are too busy looking for the next target to blame.

Seattle Green Efforts Come Up Way Short

You have to be one tough hombre to live in Seattle.  It can be one of the most depressing places to live and work.  The city averages 226 cloudy days and 155 days of rain a year.   That maybe one reason why the city needs some 9,000+ coffee shops just to help you make it through the day.  It’s also not a cheap place to live:  compared to the rest of the country, Seattle’s cost of living is 42.60% HIGHER than the U.S. average.  I think it may even have some green envy since Portland, not Seattle, was named as one of the top 10 most eco-oriented cities in the world, mostly because of a comprehensive plan to reduce CO2 emissions and aggressive green building initiatives.  And since I found all of these depressing stats on the Internet, of course they must be true.

So can we really blame the city for wanting to be first at something?  Why not try to pick on print yellow pages.  Their unique but ultimately illegal attempts
to force a city run opt-out program and recycling fees on yellow page publishers
have been well documented here:

To show you how misguided its civic leaders are, consider this recent stroke of genius:  to try to get Seattle residents and businesses to follow their opt-out jihad on phone books, residents have been urged by mail through a yellow postcard from Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) on how to stop receiving “unwanted phone books”.

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 so that
Seattleites who “….don’t have Internet access can select their phone book
delivery preferences by mail.”  In the ultimate in hypocrisy, the program coordinator:

“….acknowledged the irony of sending out mail to encourage people to stop junk mail but he pointed out that the mailer, which will use four tons of paper, is expected to help 28,000 more households and businesses stop 168,000 phone book deliveries, saving 150 tons of paper….”

How many of those 280K post cards, or 4 TONS OF PAPER do you think will be recycled?? And the outcry from all of those “green” champions who despise Yellow Pages?  Haven’t heard a peep out of them yet.  Zip, zilch, nanda, zero.  So junk mail is ok now in Seattle??

But wait.  It gets better.   King County has initiated a new online service to help eliminate junk mail for those live outside the City of Seattle.  As King County
Executive Dow Constantine acknowledged, “…recycling is great, but reducing
waste at the source is even better…”    Perhaps the city of Seattle should take note.

Or even just do a little research before they plunged headlong into this ridiculous effort.  For example, if they had just bothered to look at the recent research from Market Authority which conducted 185,000 interviews on how American’s search for a local business.

They would have found irrefutable data, analysis and reporting on how
people look for a local business when making a local buying decision. The
research fully dispels the prevalent “urban myth” that the Internet has taken
over the local search arena:

“The Internet is gaining ground but surprisingly, overall it is a long way from dominating print Yellow Pages as America’s primary search option,” says Deanna S. Helsten, Director of Research Market Authority, Inc. “We
determine and prove print versus Internet sage…actuality and perception, smart phone ownership and usage, Internet connectivity, etc., market by market, all organized by today’s ever growing imperative – age groups,” states Steve Sitton, CEO Market Authority, Inc.

The research detailed the often remarkable difference between metropolitan,
suburban and rural markets. In nearly every market in America, print yellow pages is still very strong.

But Seattle is clearly intent on going in a different direction.  I assume they missed this annoucement since it didn’t come in their junk mail……

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.

Time to Opt-Out of the City of San Francisco

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved in a purely procedural second and final vote Tuesday legislation which requires residents who want a phonebook to request a copy (aka an “opt-in” program) and blocks any mass distribution of books.  The effort has been championed by board president David Chiu who has already announced plans to run for mayor .  Now he has his environmental green card stamp to begin his run for higher office.

The law doesn’t go into effect until May 2012, and while I don’t have an specific knowledge of what’s next, I am willing to bet you will see much more legal action filed by publishers against this new law should the mayor not veto it.

What’s most disappointing about this whole effort by the city is how short sighted and fundamentally stupid it is.  In a statement released after the vote, His Eminence Mr. Chiu said  “…this legislation reaffirms San Francisco’s nationwide leadership on environmental policy.”   Seriuously??  If that was the case, what is the city doing to remove things like newspapers, cardboard, plastic bottles, and baby diapers from their  waste stream, all items which cost them significantly more to process than phone books.

The city government also seems very short sighted that the mass distribution of a directory was the only way to ensure all local residents received key information on disaster planning, what to do in times of crisis, and even contact information for all city agencies.  This from a city which has a long history of nasty things called earth quakes.

In the effort to fight this an interesting coalition formed which included groups such as Valley Yellow Pages, AT&T, Seccion Amarilla, the IBEW labor union, The Utility Reform Network, San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, ADP association, Chinese Yellow Pages, Rainbow Pages, and other local consumer advocate and business groups.  All of them had the same message – IF YOU PASS THIS LAW IT WILL COST JOBS AND HURT SMALL BUSINESSES, HINDERING THEIR EFFORTS TO COST EFFECTIVELY PROMOTE THEIR BUSINESSES.  Can all of these groups be wrong??  Not likely.

The industry has pointed out time and time again its successes in improving recycling rates and providing a simple, efficient opt-out program for those that really don’t want books.  As a result, last year according to the EPA, directory recycling rates improved from 22% to 35%. Wonder what the newspaper recycling rate is, or how about the cardboard that is used in the packaging of nearly everything you buy.  The efforts by the Yellow Pages industry represent a dramatic shift in both source reduction and recycling rates.   All accomplished without any government intervention.

There is some hope for San Francisco.  Supervisor Sean Elsbernd opposed the bill (thank God). He has said he believes the legislation is illegal and he worries about the impact on businesses – finally, someone gets the message.  Now the bill moves to the Mayor for signature.  Given his record, I’m not hopefully he will veto it.

So other than lawsuits (which are unavoidable), what else can the industry do??  I suggest an all-out boycott of the city of San Francisco.  In effect let’s opt-out of city.  That means no conventions there (LSA, Kelsey Group, and ADP can you hear us), no personal travel there, no doing business with anyone in the city area, etc. – and then letting the 10 city Board of Supervisors who voted for this legislation know we’re not coming to their city to spend money.

The San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau says that in 2010, San Francisco hosted 15.9 million visitors who spent $8.3 billion during their stay – that’s more than $22.8 million a day. That makes tourism one of our most important industries for the city. As a result, visitor dollars generated over $485 million in taxes and fees that support The City’s “…general budget, health and safety, arts and cultural organizations, recreational facilities and low-income housing.”  This also means that visitor dollars supported about 67,122 jobs in the hospitality and tourism industries, or put another way, about $1.88 billion in local payroll (excluding tips).

An industry wide boycott including family and friends should put a little dent in all that don’t you think??

Are you with me?  Say NO to San Francisco

EPA: Phone book recycling increases to 36.9%

The Local Search Association (formerly the Yellow Pages Association), released its second annual sustainability report.  One key finding according to the Environmental Production Agency (EPA) – recovery/recycling of books increased to 36.9% (up from 21.4% the previous year).

The result is an affirmation of the industry’s efforts to be good environmental stewards in the local communities they serve, and the proactive efforts they have taken to help improve recylcing rates.

The results were included in the newest 2011 sustainability report – titled “We’re All in This Together”.  Other key findings:

  • Telephone directories continue to only represent 0.3% of the solid waste stream, significantly less than newspapers (3.2%) and office paper (2.2%).
  • The upgraded consumer website (www.yellowpagesoptout.com) that makes it easier for consumers to choose to reduce or stop directory delivery.
  • Directory paper demand decreased an additional 8.1% in 2010.  Since 2007 the total paper demand is down nearly 35%.
  • The Association continues to build an array of strategic partnerships focused on environmental, economic and social performance.

In the press release, Neg Norton, president of the Local Search Association noted that “..we understand that the environment, the local economy and the communities we serve are intrinsically linked.  This year, we’re launching our Sustainability Committee to continue to develop sustainable business practices that make sense for our stakeholders, as well as to establish new benchmarks for our industry.”

While the release has been picked up but most news organizations, the silence from industry critics has been deafening.   I guess when an industry achieves the kind of results it has compared with other industries who have done little to nothing to deal with their waste contribution, it makes criticism of the Yellow Page industry seem a bit silly.

The full report is available at the Association’s website (www.localsearchassociation.org).

A Win In Round 1 in San Francisco

Efforts by a wide coalition of publishers, small business owners, and even labor unions representing directory employees have succeeded in getting the San Francisco board of supervisors to delay a vote on efforts to institute an opt-in ordinance for Yellow Pages. 

The opt-in ordinance has been championed by Board of Supervisors president David Chiu, who has already announced plans to run for mayor along with his new found interest in environmental issues (where have you been Joe DiMaggio?).  We have consistently been suspicious of local politicians like Chiu who have found that attacking phone book distribution can be an easy way to get your pro-environment ticket punched. As a result the Yellow Pages industry had to organize the coalition, many of whom have competing interests, to press Board members to oppose the bill since:

  • Publisher and Association opt-out options are available for San Francisco residents. 
  • It will cost jobs in a state where unemployment has been running well above the already levels nationwide.
  • Would hurt small businesses who know that print Yellow Pages are an effective advertising mechanisms with high ROI’s.

Now Board members will wait for a study from the city economist to determine if the objections about job loss and hardship it will cause for small businesses are valid. The report is due May 10th. Clearly efforts by the coalition got the Board’s attention as comments from some of the Board members about jobs at risk came up.

In an email this morning, Yellow Pages Association President Neg Norton indicated that the industry is continuing to work to get small businesses more involved in the effort:

“We’ve begun a merchant outreach program this week in the key districts that will produce letters, videos and petitions as well as a phone bank program where concerned citizens can be patched through to their supervisor to express their opinions. We’ll also begin to gather data on the issues they’re likely to raise with us. It’s been an amazing effort by the coalition we’ve established and we’re making progress.”

While the war is far from over, the industry has clearly won the first battle.  The industry needs to continue to rally behind the associations to combat this effort and send a message to local officials like Chiu that there are other areas their environmental efforts could be better focused than phone books to gain an even bigger impact and cost reduction without hurting small businesses and jobs. 

Keep fighting the fight…

The Paper Lifecycle

In a recent article, we took an in-depth look into how e-waste is really complicating claims from paper atheists that eliminating print phone books alone will significantly reduce the impact on the environment (Dirty Little Environmental Secrets Print Haters Don’t Like to Talk About”). The comparison between the environmental impact of print and digital was quite frankly startling, despite what the initial perception maybe.

The fact is virtually every medium has some impact on the environment. While the obvious quick response from anti-phonebook supporter is that the print products are big environmental violators, and hence, everyone should go digital.  But one truly needs to look beyond the knee-jerk response to compare the very real issues of sources, manufacturing, transportation, use, and recycling for each medium before drawing such environmental conclusions.

For example, were you aware that Swedish researchers found that reading a newspaper for just 30 minutes online actually produces more CO2 per year per reader (35 KG) than reading a printed newspaper (28 KG)?? In printed news, the production of the paper itself is the greatest factor contributing to CO2 production. In online media, the energy used to power the computer while reading it, never mind the oversized impact of manufacturing the device itself, is the biggest contributors.

Since the prior article took a detailed look at the serious damage that e-waste causes, several industry critics challenged me to reveal the same for the paper used in producing a printed directory. No problem.  Here it is.

Overview:  The basic papermaking process has changed very little since it was first developed. However, over the last two centuries, major improvements and refinements have transformed modern papermaking into a highly sustainable, high tech industry with a significantly reduced environmental footprint.

Let’s go through the same basic steps as the e-waste article, from raw material to production to recycling, for paper products in general (not specific to the paper used in phone books unless otherwise noted).

Raw materials:  Paper can be made for nearly any type of tree, from hardwoods such as Oak, to softer woods, like pine.  To supply most papers primary ingredient (not print phone book paper), pulp trees specific for this use are grown, cut down, and replanted for future use. The trees are sustainably harvested and cut into logs for transportation to a mill for processing.

Trees are a fully renewable natural energy source.  According to the Environmental Defense Fund paper calculator, the typical pulp wood tree is 40 feet tall and 6 to 8 inches in diameter. The AF&PA (American Forest and Paper Association) and USDA Forest Service indicate that about 4 million trees are planted each day.  1.7 million of those come from the wood and paper industries.  This doesn’t include the millions that grow from seeds naturally.  With 13.2 million acres of US “old growth forest”, we can all breathe a lot easier. In total there are 12 million more acres of US forest land today, more now than 20 years ago.

To ensure that paper comes from sustainable sources, most printers will look for paper that is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SSI), or the Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC). All three organizations track the chain of custody of raw materials, process materials and products from the forest to the customer, to certify that they are harvested manufactured using fiber from responsibly managed forests. Certified products are available for use in a wide range of applications including office papers, books, newspapers, magazines, annual reports, and even coffee cups.

Processing: Overall, the environmental cost of paper goes beyond the trees used to make it. Paper production has the single biggest environmental impact of any step in the paper making process, mainly because converting logs into paper requires large amounts of energy. Often, that energy comes from coal-fired power plants – one reason why the paper industry emits the fourth highest level of CO2 amongst all manufacturers. However, some paper manufacturers also use hydroelectric power and large amounts of biofuels (bark, harvest residuals, and other byproducts of the manufacturing process) to significantly improve overall environmental performance.

Specific to the paper used in phone books, it is considered a lightweight newsprint and the mills that manufacture these products have a significantly lower carbon footprint than those that make other grades of paper. For example, the carbon footprint of the Catalyst Paper mills making Yellow Pages paper is amongst the lowest in North America with 87% of the energy for their Canadian mills coming from renewable sources like hydro power and biomass fuel.

In a simplified description, the logs arrive at a factory to be debarked, chipped into small pieces, and then turned into pulp in one of two ways. To create chemical pulp, the woodchips or heated with chemicals to dissolve the lignin, an organic polymer found in plant material, and release the individual wood fibers. The second process, mechanical pulping (which is the predominant process used for phone book paper), grinds the wood with water. Pulp created mechanically retains its lignin, which is why papers made from these type’s of pulp yellow over time. The EPA estimates that more than half of the general papermaking sectors energy needs are met with renewable biomass fuels that are byproducts of the manufacturing process.

Papermaking:.  After bleaching it to make it white, the pulp is washed to improve brightness. From here, the pulp is mixed with other ingredients, formed into a sheet on a rotating screen, and fed through heated rollers that press it flat and dry. After this step, some papers received an additional top coating for improved smoothness and print ability. One 4′ x 4′ x 8′ cord of wood can be converted into about 90,000 sheets of letterhead paper.

Of note is that in the papermaking process virtually every part of the tree is used, including the bark, which is a renewable resource that can be burned to generate power for the mill. Approximately 99% of the chemicals used in the pulping process are recovered through internal recycling then burned to produce steam energy. Overall about 38% of the fiber used in the US for paper production comes from recovered sources.

One of the most significant changes has been the elimination of elemental chlorine from the bleaching process, referred to as elemental chlorine free (ECF). Findings show that elemental chlorine reacted with organic compounds in the wood which in turn lead to trace dioxins in the mills influent. Today virtually all modern paper mills produced pulp that is ECF or EECF. In addition some mills have elected to illuminate all chlorine containing compounds from the bleaching process for going totally chlorine free and using other chemicals such as oxygen, peroxide, or ozone. Since 1988, total North American paper industry dioxins emissions have been cut by 92%.

Specific to phone book paper, while the popular myth is that this industry is responsible for the neutering of forests, the reality is the Yellow Pages industry doesn’t knock down any trees for its paper!!! Let me repeat that – they don’t need to cut any trees for their paper supply.

Currently, on average, most publishers try to use about 40% recycled material (from the newspapers and magazines you are recycling curbside), and the other 60% comes from wood chips and waste products of the lumber industry mentioned above. If you take a round tree and make square or rectangular lumber from it, you get plenty of chips and other waste. Those by-products make up the other 60% of the raw material needed. Note that these waste products created in lumber milling would normally end up in landfills. Not only that, as wood chips decompose, they emit methane, a greenhouse gas closely associated with global warming. For a more detailed view of how phone book paper is made, go to http://www.yptalk.com/archive.cfm?ID=390&CatID=3

Packaging: after the paper is made, it is wound onto a giant role, then cut into different sheet and roll sizes and packaged.  Phone book paper is wound on jumbo roles which are then cut into 50” diameter rolls.

Transport: finish paper products are then packaged for shipping and transported to their ultimate destination. Printers and publishers alike want a paper source as close as possible to their plants to reduce the cost of shipping.  While fossil fuels are used to power the cargo ships and airplanes that transport most digital products/PC’s/mobile phones to their ultimate distribution site, about 56% of all new page paper actually travels via truck and 40% by rail.  About 90% of phone book paper is transported via rail.

Use: There is no question that paper in general, is one the most versatile materials on earth. Whether it’s newsprint, printing, and writing papers, packaging, household and toilet tissues, or industrial and special purpose papers, paper is a key part of our everyday life.  And once we have that paper available, it’s use doesn’t require electrical power, special communications connections, or an expensive device to make it work.

End-of-life:  Recycling is costly for all collected materials but is a key part of a sustainable society that recognizes items at the end of their useful life can contribute to the creation of new products.  After use, unlike electronic products, most paper of any type can be 100% recycled and utilized in the manufacturing of new paper. Paper can be recycled an average of five times. The AF&PA reports that 50% percent of all paper products are recycled, higher rate than metal, glass, or plastic.

The recycling of phone book paper represents a huge opportunity – upwards of some seven million pounds of clean, recyclable fiber could be available.  Many Asian countries such as China, which do not have the sustainable forest infrastructure that is in North America, are acquiring used paper to be shipped home for recycling to meet their paper needs.  When combined with the significant reduction in print newspapers, there is a growing shortfall in the availability of quality recycled paper in the U.S. Prices for this recycled paper are continuing to rise rapidly.

A footnote on the impact of paper vs. digital:

Eliminating all paper products such as phone books, and requiring everyone to move to the Internet doesn’t eliminate sustainability concerns – very few people are telling you that the Internet creates a massive, unseen carbon footprint. Based on a 2010 Dell study,

  • The manufacturing carbon footprint of a U.S. laptop is about 330 pounds CO2.  A typical phone book, produced at a Catalyst Paper mill has a footprint of about 1 pound CO2.
  • Distribution of the laptop is 110 pounds CO2 while the phone book is about 0.5 pounds CO2.
  • One year of a laptop’s life has a carbon footprint of about 90 pounds CO2 while a phone book has zero usage carbon footprint (and arguably more effective).
  • Disposal of the laptop creates another 70 pounds of CO2 while the phone book creates 0.5 pounds CO2.


My favorite critics will all read this as a suggestion that we go back to the stone age and only use print.  Nonsense.  Electronic products such as PC’s, smart phone, Blackberry’s, tablets, etc. have become as integral a part of our lives and economy as paper has been.  But in what has become a throw away culture, specifically targeting phone books in an effort to offset a local governments recycling and landfill costs is first off unfair, and more importantly, ineffective as they represent such a minimum percentage of all the collection costs for all municipal waste.  It also isn’t the “green” move it would be seem to be when you look at the facts.

The publishers and the industry associations have established opt-out programs for their print products.  Give them a chance to work.  Perhaps government officials should be spending their time more wisely looking at those industries that are generating a much larger percentage of the content in a typical waste stream than phone books are, and asking why those industries have not stepped forward to participate in helping to recycle their products as the yellow page industry has…..

The Dirty Little Environmental Secrets Print Haters Don’t Want To Talk About

First I need to acknowledge our long-time industry “advocate”, Mr. Ed Kohler for his recent analysis comparing the carbon impacts of print Yellow Pages to online or computer searches. It’s commendable that he would spend such time and energy to do the research.

However, when you start with an orientation that’s predisposed against print, it didn’t take long for Mr. Ed to leave off a whole bunch of key factors in his analysis to tilt his result towards the environmental merits of electronic over print. Let’s look at some of the dirty little secrets that print phone book haters don’t want to talk about.

What gets largely ignored by those that despise print directories is that all of these electronic products we are suppose to now use instead of print have a far more significant impact on the environment than print. The life cycle for a paper/print product has been well chronicled in numerous places so I’m not going to go through that here.  Instead let’s take a look at the complete lifecycle of a computer or the many other electronic products which have certainly become an integral part of our lives today.

Raw material extraction:  Computers contain many mid-metals and other raw materials such as lead, sand, copper, oil, gold, and natural resources that are rudely extracted from the earth and then processed.  These resources include but are not limited to iron, aluminum, zinc, nickel, tin, magnesium, phosphorus, and silver.  Mr. Ed makes no mention of the impact of this mining, or even the processing.  You can do any Google search to read about the disastrous effects from substantial deforestation, consequent erosion, and toxic pollution these efforts cause.

Material manufacturing:  After extraction and processing, raw materials are then used in the production of materials for the computers components. For example, sand becomes glass, oil goes into plastics, and metals become part of the integrated circuit boards. According to the UNU (United Nations University) it takes the same amount of chemicals (49 pounds), water (3307 pounds), and fossil fuels (530 pounds) to make one desktop computer and monitor as it does to manufacture a midsized car. In total the amount of fossil fuels used to produce one desktop computer is 10 times the weight of the computer itself.  But we’re not done there — more often than not, these parts are shipped elsewhere, usually overseas in places where child labor laws are not exactly followed, for assembly into the finished computer.

Packaging: The computer is then packaged, usually in plastics and cardboard to protect it during transit.  We are talking pallets, cardboard inserts, corner stiffeners, shrink-wrap, and labels. Should we talk about what percentage of that cardboard and packing materials that are recycled?  Figures vary but about 72% of all corrugated cardboard packaging was recycled.  However, note that not all types of cardboard can be recycled.  Most telling is the EPA’s estimate that in 2008, containers and packaging materials representing the largest category of the municipal solid waste (approximately 250 million tons) at just over 30% of the total waste materials.  Print directories made up less than 1%.

Transport:  Packaged computers are shipped all over the world, many traveling great distances from where they were manufactured. And where did your computer come from? Did you look and see where it was manufactured? I don’t think it was one of the nearby US or Canadian plants that produce the Yellow Pages industry’s paper for the printer books.

Each mode of transportation has its own carbon footprint with airfreight having by far the biggest. Consider this:  a large container ship traveling 7000 miles transporting just 1 ton of cargo would use up 1190 pounds of CO2. Even more intensive is regional airfreight. For transporting that same 1 ton materials up to a maximum of 2400 miles, that airplane would use 6720 pounds of CO2 (source). I’m not aware of any publisher transporting their books for distribution on a container ship or regional airfreight. Most is coming via freight train with final delivery through trucks.

Use:  Computers are utilized today in every walk of life, business, schools, and homes.  Heck, I sit in front of two of them all day long myself.  These devices require tremendous amount of energy.  In Mr. Ed’s analysis he failed to account for the fact that some 70% of computer usage energy usage is outside normal office hours and when idle. From one source“…..In a typical office, computer/monitor combinations far outweigh all other office equipment in terms of energy consumption….” We should all be shutting down machines at night and on the weekends to drastically reduce how much power it uses, but the reality is that’s not happening. (Source)

End-of-life:  Here is where things get really nasty. The ever shortening lifespan of the computer currently averages 2 to 5 years. Other personal electronics are replaced with even greater frequency (think how often you are changing out your cell phone). The many toxic substances contained in computers and other electronic devices cause problems when disposed of improperly. As the Earth 911 site noted:  “…In 2005 alone, almost 2 million tons of e-waste were landfilled. While toxic materials comprise only a small amount of this volume, it doesn’t take much lead or mercury to contaminate an area’s soil or water supply. ..”

If properly recycled many of the material and plastic components can be dismantled and reused. But only about 14% of the computers components and materials can actually be recycled into usable materials.  What’s in E waste??  Among the many hazardous materials harmful to human health and the environment are: lead, mercury, arsenic, barium, beryllium, cadmium, chromium, to name just a few (for more, go here).  EPA numbers indicate that only about 18% of the 3,000,000 tons of used electronics in the US are actually recycled. Let’s compare that with EPA’s estimate that 57% of the paper consumed in the US was recovered for recycling in 2008.


So as you can see, a shift from print to electronic isn’t the slam dunk for a greener environment that people may have incorrectly been lead to believe….