The phone book problem

Reader Alisa sent us the following question:

How do you stop phone books from showing up at your door? I don’t need a new phone book every year. I hardly use the one I have. What a waste of paper!

Oh, Alisa, I understand your frustration. Just last week I picked up one of the three delivered to my home in a year and tossed it straight into the recycling bin.

Unfortunately, I have no good news for you. Despite all of my efforts over the past couple years, I have been unsuccessful at getting any of the three to stop bringing them to me. I have called customer service agents at the publishing companies, been told that I have been removed from a list, only to find it delivered again 12 months later. In all cases, the phone books are thrown onto our front porch by a person in a van who has no distribution list. Everyone gets one. Period.

There are a number of petition sites online that promise to pass your loathing along to the publishing companies that produce these books, but most of them appear to be ways to obtain your e-mail address for spamming purposes. So, I have no hope to offer you.

I want to open up the comments, however, to our readership who may have some sort of special knowledge about how to get off the lists. Or, maybe our readers have fantastic ideas for what to do with the pages to not make it a complete travesty of wasted paper. Let us know what you know in the comments!

81 Comments for “The phone book problem”

  1. posted by Rick on

    I have the same problem! If ATT & Verizon are willing to litter on my porch, I’m willing to litter on theirs. I keep the offending phonebook in the car until the opportunity to do a drive-by phonebooking arises! If we all did this, the message would be clear, and selective delivery would probably follow.


  2. posted by Laura on

    That is a great idea Rick!!

  3. posted by Karen in Wichita on

    Around here, at least, they’re required to have recycling stops during phone-book distribution season.

    However, from experience delivering phone books (hey, we have a one-ton pickup, and the church youth group was fundraising), there’s really no effective way to opt out. They just assign streets/areas, and you deliver to everything that looks remotely like a front door in that area. If the homeowner/businessperson declines them in person, you don’t deliver, but otherwise I think that was it.

    (I won’t swear to all of this: it’s been a few years, I never talked to the phone company people myself, we were just the chauffeurs (okay, that’s too fancy a term for “someone who drives a pickup older than dirt”), and I can’t even tell you which company it was.)

    Which is not to say it shouldn’t happen (we’re up to three or four delivered a year, which is just crazy), just that it can’t without a considerable change in the distribution method. Which means a considerable increase in distro costs, so it will require a fair amount of activism to get changed.

    Seems to me this is a good case for the granting of a limited monopoly, a la franchised or municipal trash service, since the community benefits from a unified service. Yellow pages have become so dilute as to be useless (other than to see who *doesn’t* have good word-of-mouth, because they’re the ones who can justify ads in all N phone books), and it’s a serious burden on smaller companies’ ad budgets… since apparently the price of an ad *doesn’t* go down due to the competition (and will only go *up* if selective delivery is implemented).

  4. posted by WC on

    What you can do with unused phonebooks is donate them to the local library, school or to a low-cost or nonprofit medical clinic, social organizations or assistance organizations. Many times they put phonebooks out, only to have people take them, so they need several.

  5. posted by brandy on

    Actually, there are some people in high places trying to make laws that would force phone book companies to allow people to opt-out of phone book deliveries. There was an article about it recently here:

    There is also a post & poll about it on Consumerist:

  6. posted by Marc Devens on

    I just saw this posted on a blog in my feeds yesterday, though I unfortunately cannot remember which one. Check it out, it may be of help.

  7. posted by Elizabeth on

    Note sure about the success, but Lifehacker has information about a possible solution:

  8. posted by Maggie on

    My office circulated this a couple weeks ago, and so far everyone’s reporting success:

    To help the environment you can elect to stop getting paper copies of both yellow and white pages mailed to your home by registering at the following:

  9. posted by Melissa A. on

    I don’t mind getting one, because I actually use it, but here we only have 2 phone companies. Last summer I put the pages in my shredder and used them for packing up boxes as I was moving.

    I do think this is the kind of thing that should be legislated though.

  10. posted by Marie on

    I drop off unneeded phone books at local businesses. Most only receive 1 free phone book, although they have several offices and employees who use the phones at different locations throughout the business.

  11. posted by Rebecca on

    Donate them to a pre-school or kindergarten classroom for use in paper mache projects.

  12. posted by Some Dude on

    Since I don’t take the newspaper I use phonebooks to start my fireplace in the winter.

  13. posted by David on

    I have tried everything I could do…but yet they still show up. Petitions, writing to, etc. I think I am going to start collecting them and dropping them off at the phone company’s office next…

  14. posted by [email protected] Awareness * Connection on

    What a great topic.

    @David I like your ideas. That is stuff that gets things done, some of which I’ve used myself when conventional techniques don’t work.

    How many freakin trees are we going through for no reason when so many of us don’t even use them anymore? I’m all for using trees for products we need and use, but geez.

  15. posted by shris on

    I think I’m going to ask my husband to use it for grill starter–that is, the paper you wad up in the bottom of the chimney-style charcoal starter gadget. It will require several pages, but I think it’s the right kind of paper and the ink will be soy-based.

    You can also cut the pages apart and put them on your compost heap if you need ‘brownies’..


  16. posted by Ryan on

    Let’s organize a phone-book-return day. Everyone save the phonebooks brought to our doors for one year, and then pick a date to take them to the respective companies.

    Or … take them all to the closest porta-potty you can find.

  17. posted by Brad on

    You could just sign up to deliver them, make the money and then skip your own house.

  18. posted by beachmom on

    I think my suggestion has been mentioned, but the local schools in our area are always looking for phone books – just give them a call and see where to drop them.

  19. posted by Brian on

    Over the past couple weeks everything from productivity blogs to clutter blogs have commented on how to get rid of excess phone books. I believe this is the fifth or sixth blog entry I have seen in my RSS feeds. Everyone focuses on trying to stop them from coming. All these blog posts are clutter. Think about all the time wasted complaining about the books and trying to stop them. Simple solution recycling bin. Clutter removed. Phone books are not like junk mail they require action maybe four times a year instead of daily. The endless chatter of how to handle this problem will never lead to a solution it only clogs the RSS feed.

  20. posted by Kersti on

    I’ve worked for 2 different phone book companies in my time in both the online and print areas. It seems like a simple problem but it’s not quite so easy. Here are a couple of the issues

    – would need to create a database of everyone who doesn’t want one
    – would then need to keep that database updated – what if you don’t want the book then you move out and I do want the book and I’ve moved in?
    – the delivery windows is several weeks long – the logistics of ensuring that this is up to date when the van pulls up and that the van guy has the right info is pretty nasty
    – you would then need to find a way of auditing this to ensure that the delivery guys did the right thing

    – a lot of the profit margins revolve around print volumes, while the companies I’ve worked for have relished new designs that reduce the amount of paper or ink per book as that equates to savings, unfortunatly the numbers that would be reduced by non-delivery either aren’t enough to effect costs (so no incentive) or they could be too many and so could have the opposite effect

    But that’s all small fry – here’s the killer for you:
    – generally the sales model is based on the fact the there’s a book delivered for free to everyone
    – because of this, when new streets don’t get a delivery advertisers like to litigate (they say they didn’t get what they paid for)

    What you do see if more and more of these companies going online. The more that people use the websites and actually report that in the usage surveys the more likely that the companies will see an advertiser shift to online over print and thus be inclined to drop print.

    Generally in print the companies enjoy somewhat of a monopoly or at least limited competition whereas online they have significant competition and thus they would prefer to keep in the safe print world for as long as possible.

    In some countries they have responded to green calls by offering recycling – in Australia there is a significant recycling program that coexists with the book delivery times. This is probably where you’ll see more effort from these companies.

  21. posted by Matt on

    I used the Yellow Pages Goes Green site just yesterday after it was featured on Lifehacker. But your comment on spamming made me worried. Which sites were you referring to? Which should we avoid?

  22. posted by Kersti on

    @David – having worked in one of those offices they’ll probably be grateful, we spent ages trying to find a phone book!

    Oh and there was a good series of adverts for yellow pages run in Australia a few years ago that showed all the alternative uses for the books… this is no unitasker!

  23. posted by Spacelord on

    Phone books left on my porch go right into my trash.
    We save all our junk mail and newspapers for a recycling program at church but they say NO PHONEBOOKS. I think there’s something funny about the paper or ink.

  24. posted by Harald Stürzebecher on

    In Germany we have “opt-in”, implemented as “pick-up-yourself-or-pay-for-delivery”:

    I like it that way – no paper on my doorstep and no list with my name and address on it.

  25. posted by Margaret on

    @Kersti – What about the environmental impact of Phone Books? That’s why we all want them to stop. Even if the phone book company is using recycled pages, less ink, etc etc, these methods still run a high cost on our environment especially when we just toss them directly into the recycle bin upon delivery.

  26. posted by Barbara Tollen on

    I use VoIP for my phone service (cable via computer) – no phone book from my cable company. Haven’t used a phone book in years.

  27. posted by Brian on

    I just registered at heres hoping it works.

    However, traditionally I have followed the same routine:

    1. Arrive home find phone book at bottom of stairs. (I live on the second floor of condo complex.) Curse phone book’s existence, and rave about “the inter-tubes.” This may or may not be aloud. Neighbors may give strange looks.

    2.) Bring phone book to landing of condo.

    3.) Throw phone book to bottom of stairs.

    4.) Feel happy and justified seeing sprawled and misshapen phone book wreckage.

    5.) Resolve to throw away phone book as I leave tomorrow. The book is not worth any more effort

    6.) Walk outside next morning (or evening or whatever), and find that phone book has been removed. Wonder where it crawled to die.

  28. posted by brandy on

    @Brian – “The endless chatter of how to handle this problem will never lead to a solution it only clogs the RSS feed.”

    That’s right, Brian–the worst way to solve problems is to talk about them.


  29. posted by Alisa on

    I personally don’t think it’s enough just to recycle your phone book(s). That’s the least we can do. I think they’re a huge waste of trees, water and other resources because they aren’t used like they once were.

  30. posted by Chris on

    I travel a lot for a living, and find the phone books an annoyance. I call and make them come out and pick up the offending book since it was left without my permission. I have a bad back 🙂 Usually, making the supervisor come out and pick up the offending book has helped to cut the clutter.

  31. posted by emily on

    When I lived in Japan, a friend had the perfect use for a phone book; cockroach killer. He’d use it to smash things, tear off the few contaminated pages at the end, and throw them away. One book lasts a long time, and the weight is perfect.

    Anyone living in a buggy area might be able to get SOME use out of the thing….

  32. posted by bill on

    Not so much anymore, but i used to use them to lift monitors to eye level. Since you get thick ones and thin ones, the total lift is very adjustable.

  33. posted by The Green Routine on

    I used to deliver telephone books. How it was done was you submitted your name to the telephone company, and you were given a route. By all accounts, it’s a part-time temporary job, and they hire new people to do it every year. Basically, anyone with a car and a pulse is recruited to deliver the books. The list we were given for distribution was “Block A, 1200 – 2900” We were paid by the book, not for our time. Had I been given an exclusion list, I probably would have ignored it because it would cost me money, and waste my time.

  34. posted by Cyrano on

    I bake my phone books so I can use them later as party tricks:

  35. posted by Harris on

    Ryan….”Drop your phone book off at a port-a-potty”, now that’s funny!
    The only purpose I know of is as a booster seat for kids at the table. Sometimes two are needed.

  36. posted by Doug Ransom on

    It takes 10 seconds to throw your Phone Book in the trash once a year.

  37. posted by Mary on

    Brian .. I strongly disagree. In this realm, endless chatter gets noticed and a ton of paper feeding an outdated technology could be saved.

    Perhaps small businesses will notice and realize their advertising dollars could be better spent elsewhere. No revenue = no phone books.

  38. posted by Shana on

    As an advertiser, I wish they would go away. The majority of people who use them is getting smaller by the day, and although a portion of the business that comes through my door found me in a phone book, it’s only customers over 65. The expense in putting an ad one is extremely high, and I wish they would completely out of style so that I wouldn’t feel a need to buy an ad in any of them!

    As for other uses: we’ve used them a high-chairs, as a base to set plants on, under couch legs to raise the couch up, to squish bugs, but my fovrite was when I had gerbils and we gave them whole phone books to chew up and use as bedding – they loved it! (We never had to buy any kind of bedding for them – they’d just chew off what they wanted, make a nest, and then when we cleaned the cage, they chew off some more. If things got too dirty, we’d throw away the book and ut in a new one!)

  39. posted by Rue on

    I think phone books are a waste of time and trees. You can look the information up faster online. For those who don’t have/don’t want a computer, they can call information and get the info they want.

    I can’t think of anyone who really uses them (for their intended use, anyway). At my old apartment, they would lay in front of apartments that I KNEW were occupied for a week (or more)…after that I’d get fed up with them trashing up the place and throw them in the dumpster!

    I can understand the vast amount of work that keeping a database of who wants one and who doesn’t would be. So why don’t the phone companies just stop circulating them altogether? If someone actually wants one they can just call and order one. And the people who actually want one could pay a small fee for it to cover the cost of printing it.

  40. posted by laura on

    @ Doug Ransom: I think the point is more that we don’t want the environmental impact of all those unused phone books. Just to take 10 seconds to throw it in the trash would NOT be the solution.

    When our internet was out for 2 months, we tried to use the phone book to find things but found it almost never helpful!

  41. posted by Lori on

    I use mine on occasion. It’s often easier to see at a glance what businesses of a certain kind are closest to me. Especially with some categories of business (most recently for me, furniture resale, scrap metal suppliers, and lawn care services), the information is in the phone book, but not necessarily easily findable or comprehensive on the internet.

    I do wish we didn’t get phone books from four different companies, though, each one claiming to be the “real” or “original” one. At least our county does a yearly phone book recycling drive.

  42. posted by DrJ on

    I don’t have any advice except: move to Germany. Here we have to pick up phone books from distributor stands (normally in shopping centres, post offices, or from the Telekom shops) ourselves.

    Or just not bother to, which is the way we prefer to operate!

  43. posted by Mer on

    I have a recycling site convenient to my house, so I just drop them off while running other errands.

  44. posted by Dawn on

    If you can’t get off the list and want to reuse your phone book, you can make a card holder for a nursing home or for a disabled person. Take the phone book and put a strip of duct tape around the book on the binding side. Then you cut off all the pages down to the tape leaving the binding. If you then turn it up so the binding is on the table the pages hold cards vertically. I wish I had a picture to add.

  45. posted by Jasi on

    Canabalize the thing. Interior maps can be given to visiting relatives. Use the pages for paper airplanes, color on it, smoke it, stand on it, wrap gifts with it. Glue together the pages, hollow it out and stash valuables. Decoupage that and make a gift box.

  46. posted by Prolific Programmer on

    I’ve never received a phone book from AT&T/Verizon or Eircom before that, simply because I’ve never had their services.

  47. posted by Faculties on

    Phone books are really useful to keep in the car. You can look something up if you find yourself lost on the way to somewhere, and they usually have a local map in them.

  48. posted by kristy on

    This topic was covered by wisebread today, too.

    Their entry suggests the same yellow pages go green service. The company I work for gets about 50 phone books for 30 employees. It’s ridiculous. I bring them home and they go straight into the recycling bin. Such a waste!

  49. posted by Josh Miller on

    An office I used to work for had maybe 12 people working in it. We came in one morning and found a stack (2 actually) of 50 phone books.

    I called the phone company and they were displeased. I guess the delivery person gets paid “by the book” or something and just dumped a bunch on us.

  50. posted by Julia on

    The pages do make excellent packing material, although I don’t shred them first, I just ball them up.

    I had an opposite problem the last time I moved to a new city – I had no internet service yet, and had no phone book. I couldn’t find stores or offices or restaurants of any kind…it was awful. But now I understand why the phone company was so freaked out when I called them to ask for a book.

    I lived in a town where phone books were dropped off at regular points. Why couldn’t the phone company keep them at their own offices for pickup by customers who wanted one? Deliveries could be arranged for those who were unable to get to the pickup location. If I wanted one, I’d know where to get it; if not, I don’t pick one up.

  51. posted by Courtney on

    This website will take care of getting you off the lists:

  52. posted by lucille on

    This won’t get you off their lists but it might make you feel better. Find out where they are distributing the books out of in your town. Take said phone book back and toss it on their front door step.

  53. posted by James on

    We too have VOIP service, but continue to receive phone books from AT&T and Verizon (our VOIP is not provided by either), not to mention all the community phone books we receive.

    Last year, I simply returned my phonebook to my local AT&T and Verizon store. Just walked it in, and left it at the customer service desk. When asked what I was doing, I said I was returning this as I didn’t ask for it. If enough people start doing this, perhaps the local stores will get the message. I like the idea of setting a date where there is a unified “return the book” event 🙂

  54. posted by Becca on

    what about something like this?

  55. posted by judi on

    I’m in that segment over 65 that likes a phone book and uses one. Especially the white pages to check addresses when I’m sending a birthday or get well card to a friend in town. The yellow pages do have useful maps and diagrams of local concert halls, etc. The coupons in the back are useful, too. My problem is that I cannot get the marketing office from ATT&T to let me order a white pages for my metro area this year. They just adopted an “opt in” delivery but there is no way to opt in. Yes, I use the Internet and I use online directories, but nothing quite replaces a phone book. It came in handy two years ago when I needed to practice my physical therapy for knee surgery, too. When new ones are delivered I recycle the old one. It’s not that big a deal.

  56. posted by Chris on

    In Ireland there is a way to get off the list for the phonebooks as was set out in this blog post


  57. posted by Melissa on

    If you live in a large metro area, consider selling the phone book on eBay. Seriously. Sales people from other parts of the country need phone books and to purchase one often costs them $50 from the phone company. I’ve done this many times with the Omaha phone book.

  58. posted by Canny Granny on

    I just put mine in the recycle bin. It gets cleared each fortnight – phone books are recycled to make cat litter where I live

  59. posted by Just ME on

    I am awfully tempted to start a facebook group on returning your phone books. I think returning them is a good idea and will send a message if done en mass.

  60. posted by Erin Doland on

    I have had zero success with the yellow pages link listed above. Our neighborhood receives three books a year and none of them are yellow pages brand. Additionally, to sign upto opt out you have to provide information about yourself that is then data mined for their online services. For the majority of people, the service will be ineffective.

  61. posted by Celeste on

    Recycle. I can NOT be bothered trying to find alternative uses for something that never even served a purpose to me.

  62. posted by Annalea on

    I’ve read that they make great toilet paper in a pinch. So, stack ’em somewhere, and use them to barter when the world falls apart (as all of the worried crowd say will happen any day now ;o).

  63. posted by Martina on

    In Germany, the problem is handled like this: Everybody gets a postcard from the phone company that the new phone books are available. Those who don’t want one can just throw the card away. Those who do want one can pick one up – they are avialable for free in large stacks at many gas stations, post offices etc., usually not far from people. Something similar should be possible in the US, maybe cooperating with the large grocery stores and gas stations. Everybody has got to get gas or groceries once in a while, after all. After some years of doing this the phone companies should be able to learn how many books are actually wanted in what areas, so in the long run they might be able to save. Distribution costs should also drop, so there is something in this system for the phone companies, too.

  64. posted by Shiela on

    I use mine (we get 3) to stack on a chair for my grandson who is 2 to sit on when eating at the dining room table.

    Then we just recycle the old ones when new ones arrive.

    I like the idea of taking them to businesses and schools. And I do use them for packing as well.

    I am not quite 65 but I understand the generational philosophy behind using the phone book and not using the phone book.

    It makes a great door stop! What about using the pages for mulch?!

  65. posted by l3j on

    Last year I found a number on or in the Verizon phone book, called them, and got off the list. I didn’t receive one this year, so I believe it worked. Anyone here try calling and asking them not to give you one?

  66. posted by DJ on

    I give them to my rabbits as chew toys, and once they are shredded, I put the paper into our recycling bin, which the city picks up every two weeks.

    When we first moved to this city, we were amazed to received 18 different phone books within two weeks. Eighteen! I mean, gee whiz!

  67. posted by James on

    When we moved to south King County, we received the wrong phone books. When we called, we were provided with the correct ones. So we were responsible for two of the phone books we received. But in the first 13 months, we had received 14 phone books from three or four different companies, none of whom provided us with phone service. I finally took them all and dumped them in the recycling bin when the shelf started to bow. I love the idea, though, of keeping them in the car and delivering them back to the phone company.

    I just don’t see a way to get off the delivery schedule since they contract out to low paid workers who just fill their pickups and drive through the neighborhood hitting everyone.

  68. posted by Thom on

    I’m Australian and there are some good recycling options here, but the German system sounds the most sensible to me!

    Apart from a very slim local area yellow/white pages (half an inch thick, just my suburb and the surrounding ones) I haven’t looked at a phone book for years – not at work, not at home. The local one is handy for its maps and some local services – I might consult it once or twice a year.

    But this post has prompted me to go count the big two-volume sets (I live in a big capital city) that I have, still unwrapped: Two sets of yellow pages and two sets of white pages.

    Why do I keep them? I rent, so the most recent sets are stashed in the bottom of the closet. When I happen to move out they’re there as a courtesy for the next tenant. And the older sets? Each two-volume set is about 3.5 inches (9 cm) thick unwrapped and they make a very nice footrest for when I’m working at my desk. By the time my feet have shredded the plastic covering on both sides of the package then it’s time to bung it in the recycling and bring out the next set.

  69. posted by Jessica on

    Many schools and churches have bins outside for recycling and use this as a way to earn extra money. Why not drive by and recycle your yellow books there?

  70. posted by Robin L. on

    I got rid of the landline and went to cell phone only. The phone books stopped arriving, too, making it a double whammy against clutter. I got rid of all the old phones and the phone books!

  71. posted by verily on

    I wish the phonebooks would stop arriving. We haven’t had a landline in years, but I still seem to get new phonebooks 3 or 4 times a year.

    I tried the recycling bin outside the church and it specifically said “No phonebooks”. I was flabbergasted. Isn’t it just paper??

  72. posted by Maggie on

    Germany has the right idea, but I like all the suggestions for alternative uses. Here’s another one recommended to my 9 year old for anger management: tear the phone book in half. Once, when extremely angry, I heard her yell from her bedroom “I need ANOTHER phone book!”

  73. posted by Alex Ireland on

    Consumers can “opt out” of receiving telephone books at They will contact the publishers and inform them to stop delivering books. This is a free service for consumers. is working with state and local governments on ordinances concerning the delivery of unsolicited telephone books. is not against the telephone books but against the delivery of 4 to 5 pounds of paper on people’s door step 5 to 6 times per year and being told it is our responsibility to recycle something we did not ask for. If we need a book we will call. Otherwise I “opt out” from receiving it.

  74. posted by Inki on

    I like the German system too, sounds like a great way to save paper! Here in Norway, we have an opt-out system where you can register your name and address online with the phone company (we only have one) if you don’t want the book, and you get a reminder notice a couple weeks before they would be distributed to make sure your name is properly marked on the door so they won’t deliver it to you by mistake. I would prefer an opt-in system, though, since I’m sure a lot of people just don’t bother to opt out even if they don’t want the book.

  75. posted by Lisa on

    I use them to make pressed flowers and when they get too yucky, I recycle them. But shredding them for compost is a good idea too.

  76. posted by Michele on

    I hate seeing those phonebooks (in a plastic bag!) on my porch. They don’t even make it into the house – they go right into recycling.

  77. posted by Idea on

    Put up a sign saying no telephone directories needed.
    Get a life and don’t waste energy bringing them back. Make a list for the people that complain that they don’t get one

  78. posted by Chelsea on

    Ever wanted to make a hollow book? Now’s your chance! Use your old phonebook – most people expect a hollow book to be a classic or textbook…

  79. posted by Sheri on

    I keep one in my van. Last time I called info from my cell phone, it cost me $4! So, I always have the number of the restaurant where I want to call ahead and order dinner. AND a big plus, I can’t look it up while driving, so the kids get extra alphabetization practice. Win/win. Then, we don’t use charcoal lighter (or gas grills), so these are great for lighting the grill when they’re old. Another plus, if it’s breezy, the wind won’t blow away your paper.

  80. posted by nadira on

    Take the unwanted books to a non-profit organization in your area. They don’t have enough. Or take it to a large business you like, or library. There are plenty of places that don’t have enough. Let them recycle the rest.

    I’m one of those people who has to use the internet at the library. I like having phone books to look things up.

    When i moved to Lexington, KY, I wanted to look up people I knew who were in Cincinati. When I called to request one, I was told that it would cost me over $3.00. Wouldn’t it have been great to go to the library and get one for 50 cents because someone in Cincinati had donated theirs?


Comments are closed.