Columns 2008

Drowning in phone books

I came home one day last week and found yet another plastic bag on my porch filled with the latest overload of telephone books. I took the package, put it in my car and off loaded it at the phone book recycling bins the first chance I got. As I did so, I wondered once again how companies could be so environmentally insensitive as to continue this practice despite the cries from consumers to stop it.

Let’s look at some basic facts.  One, I only have so much room on my desk. I am not about to fill it with multiple phone books.  Two, if I need a phone number for a business, I can look it up on the Internet faster than I can in the phone book. Three, not only can I look the number up faster, but Google also gives me a full address and a little map showing the location of the business. Four, and this is a biggie, I get so angry at the waste these duplicative books represent that I never use them or their advertising to make choices on where to get a service I need.

And I can honestly say I have no idea which book ends up on my desk. It’s a matter of chance. Seriously, is there anyone out there who actually sits down with competing versions of telephone books and does a side by side comparison before deciding which to keep and which to use as a door stop?

I used to think that recycling was a good idea that didn’t necessarily relate to me because I was a single person who didn’t produce much waste. Then I was offered the option of curbside recycling and thought that for a $6 buy in, I might as well give it a try. I did not expect to actually have very much stuff to fill the fairly huge container that was delivered to my home. But lo and behold, I do.

I’d never realized just how much recyclable material even a one person household can generate.  Coffee tins, juice containers, dog food cans, newspapers, even the lid from my daily latte.  While I may not totally fill up my recycle bin every two weeks, I come a lot closer than I ever thought I would.

So if one person can generate this mound of material for recycling, imagine how much waste all of Anchorage throws away every day, waste that will be in our landfills for thousands of years to come. While this could help future archeologists figure out how we managed to completely poison our environment, wouldn’t it be nicer to not kill the earth on which we live?

Which brings me right back to these darn telephone books.  Imagine how many are out there if every household in this municipality gets as many as I do.  And that begs the question of why the telephone companies are still using such ancient technology for this purpose. What about the idea of a telephone book on a disk that can be loaded onto my computer and accessed with ease whenever I need a number? A basic search function would even alleviate the frustration of trying to figure out where to go in the yellow pages to find what I wanted.

Granted that not everyone has a computer so there would perhaps be a need to still print a few books. But I’m betting that more than 90% of the target population would use the disk instead of a book. And they would be able to come home in the spring and summer without wanting to scream because someone had left another steaming pile of telephone directories on their front. The disks could be returned for recycling each year and our world would be saved from a little more junk being tossed on it by a society that is only beginning to come to grips with what its wasteful attitude has done to the environment that surrounds us.  I don’t have kids, but if I did, I’d sure want them to grow up in a cleaner world than we seem to be creating.

Think about it, telephone companies. Because I’m really mad now. And that’s not good for my blood pressure or your business.