22 August 2014

Goodbye phone books

Phone books make great door stops.

They also contain lots of contact details for people I don't know and businesses I will never use. So recently we opted out of receiving any for the next five years.

Probably in five years time I will get myself an updated business & government directory (White Pages) and then cancel for another period. I doubt I will ever opt back in to the Yellow Pages.

Initial Time: Five minutes to go online and opt out. Go to https://www.directoryselect.com.au/action/home

Initial Cost: zero

Ongoing time or cost commitment: We do use our hard-copy phone books occasionally, and it generally takes a little longer to get the Yellow or White pages up on Tyson's phone than to flip open the book (or longer again if we have to fire up an actual computer) but its a few extra minutes a year. Updating the book every five years instead of every year would be enough to keep it useful.

Impact: Sensis, who print phone books for Australia, is 'proudly carbon neutral', encourages recycling and from what I could find prints within Australia, so it is doing its best. Nevertheless, millions of phone books are printed and delivered every year that are rarely or never used, and however you off-set it or recycle it, that is a lot of unnecessary paper. When the company changed from opt-out to opt-in for residential phone directories a couple of years back only 2% of suburban households requested to still receive books, suggesting a lot of people had little use for the ones they previously had delivered every year. I couldn't find a figure for how many books are currently printed but from various data about percentages in particular areas my estimate is around 15 million phone books in Australia each year. At 800-1000g each, that's approximately 13,500 tonnes of paper. If only 2% are actually wanted or used, that could be reduced to 270 tonnes. Even if I have wildly over estimated, it is still a lot of paper that could be avoided. And that is just the product itself - there are also factors like resources used to run the printing factories, wrap books in plastic, transport them and dispose of them at the end of each year.

(For those not in Australia: every household in this country until recently was supplied for free every year with paper phone directories - some years four fat volumes - as part of the main telephone provider's legal obligations to provide a directory service. White Pages books are alphabetical listings of all registered land-line phone numbers; Yellow Pages are commercial directories that businesses pay to be included in. In the four largest cities, which together account for over half the nation's population, the 'residential' volume is now opt-in, and the others have been stream-lined, but two volumes are generally still delivered)

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