SF Bay Guardian: The problem with the yellow pages
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Editors note: We ran an opinion piece this week opposing Sup. David Chiu’s proposal to limit delivery of yellow pages phone books. It’s gotten a lot of comments. Chiu asked if his supporters could respond. By Michelle Myers and Janet Pomeroy Tired of getting stacks of yellow pages books delivered to your front steps every year [...]
Editors note: We ran an opinion piece this week opposing Sup. David Chiu’s proposal to limit delivery of yellow pages phone books. It’s gotten a lot of comments. Chiu asked if his supporters could respond.
By Michelle Myers and Janet Pomeroy
Tired of getting stacks of yellow pages books delivered to your front steps every year when you didn’t ask for them? Most people are.
Phone companies distribute 1.6 million phone book directories in San Francisco every year, which is two for every man, woman and child – producing 3,600 tons of waste annually, and costing residents as much as $1 million dollars a year. There are approximately 350,000 residential units in San Francisco and 80,000 businesses. If we had a single phone book in every home and office we would only need a third of what is currently being produced. That doesn’t even take into account the fact that many individuals no longer use the yellow pages to get information, and non-English language speakers don’t use the English print directory.
Does anyone in San Francisco need two five-pound yellow pages phone books delivered every year? No. So why does the industry do this? According to the Green Chamber of Commerce and independent research, the companies do it to pump up ad sales, which are based on inflated circulation numbers.
San Francisco’s attempt to restrict the mass over distribution of yellow pages, and to force an honest look at the industry, marks some of the most important environmental legislation of the last several years.
Supervisor David Chiu’s Yellow Pages legislation is supported by the Sierra Club, Rain Forest Action Network, The Green Chamber of Commerce, the Product Stewardship
Institute, Californians Against Waste, Senior Action Network, numerous small businesses, the San Francisco Small Business Commission, homeowners, tenants, and landlords.
The San Francisco city economist did an independent economic impact analysis of the legislation and found that this pilot program was good for business, good for the environment and would create 111 jobs while pumping $12 million dollars back into the local economy. The legislation is considered a no-brainer by serious economists, climate change experts and environmentalists who have examined it.
If you oppose this simple legislation, you are inviting a major corporation to come in, dump garbage on our front steps, and then volunteer to pay for the clean up. The financial loss of cleaning up over produced yellow pages is passed down to the residents and businesses of the city. And since the yellow pages are not produced locally the majority of the economic benefit of this industry accrues elsewhere.
The legislation will create a three year pilot program to reduce the waste of unwanted yellow page phone books. Under this legislation, anyone who wants a yellow page book can get one — but those who don’t want one won’t be responsible for the disposal of the books. Because this innovative and historic legislation is being set up as a test pilot for the nation, if San Franciscans see any negative impact we can adjust the program or end it altogether.
The paper industry is a massive polluter. It is the single largest consumer of water, has a toxic by-product, destroys trees we need to absorb carbon, and is the fourth largest manufacturing source of carbon dioxide in the United States. If we only distributed half as many yellow pages in San Francisco – to the people who actually need and want them — we would save 6,180 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year.
Rather than being a good steward of the environment, the yellow page industry is producing far beyond the demand for their product. The companies do this as a way of inflating the amount they charge to the businesses that advertise with them. Today, this business model is wasteful and unnecessary. It is time to demand that these paper directories are only distributed to the people that want and need them.
Michelle Myers is with the Sierra Club and Janet Pomeroy is with the Green Chamber of Commerce.