Board of Supervisors ban unsolicited Yellow Pages

In an attempt to reduce both its ecological footprint and recycling costs, San Francisco is making efforts to curb the dissemination of unwanted phone directories.

The Board of Supervisors approved an ordinance Feb. 1 to ban the unsolicited distribution of Yellow Pages phone books for a three-year trial period. The ordinance, which was proposed by board president David Chiu, only prohibits the distribution of phone books to residents who did not specifically request to receive one.

“If you were to stack up all these Yellow Pages books on top of each other, you would have the height of almost 300 Transamerica buildings,” Chiu said.

The law is not permanent, but is instead a three-year program designed to allow the City to measure the effect the ordinance will have on Yellow Pages distribution and small business.  The ordinance states that San Francisco receives almost 1.6 million Yellow Pages phone books a year despite that there are only about 800,000 residents in the city.

Under the ordinance, Yellow Pages phone books may be distributed at community centers, grocery stores, or directly at residences upon the residents request. According to Chiu, the ordinance is not an attempt to make Yellow Pages illegal, but rather a step towards reducing the city’s impact on the environment and cost of recycling.

“This law is not a ban on Yellow Pages; we simply want to make sure everyone who wants a Yellow book can get it,” Chiu said.

According to San Francisco Recology, it costs $300 per ton to collect and dispose of Yellow Pages in San Francisco.

Alexa Kielty, residential recycling and special projects assistant at the San Francisco Department of the Environment, said she has seen the wasteful effects of unused phone books.

“I work with property managers and bring composting to apartments and increase recycling and lowering the disposal coming out of multi-family buildings,” Kielty said. “I’ve seen stacks and stacks of phone books that are not being utilized. I know that even though they are recyclable, because of their heavy weight, they cause problems at recycling facilities.”

The ordinance also contains statistics by Experian Simmons 2010 National Consumer Survey that states only 38.3 percent of adults opened a Yellow Pages directory within the last year.

“It’s time to recognize that phone books are a twentieth century tool that doesn’t meet the business or environmental needs of the 21st century,” Chiu said.

For some people, the proposed ban is bittersweet. Andy Crummett, 30, is an SF State graduate student in special education.  He expressed concern for his grandparents who could be affected by the ordinance.

“I remember using Yellow Pages when I was younger, but now I can just use the Internet to find whatever I need,” Crummett said. “My grandparents don’t use the Internet and rely on yellow pages.”