Sunday, July 13, 2008

Stop! Don't trash that phone book! Flick It!

Although it's illegal, 85 percent of phone directories are dumped in the trash

Brimming with pages of ads and coupons, more telephone books than ever are piling up on people's doorsteps. But recycling of telephone directories has dropped, in part because most of the special drop-off recycling bins for them that were popular in the 1990s have disappeared.

85 percent of the telephone directories are dumped into the regular trash, even though it has been illegal in Minnesota to do so since 1992. State pollution officials call it one of  the state’s biggest solid-waste problems.

"These phone books seem to be multiplying like bunnies in the spring here," said Tim Pratt, recycling coordinator for the city of Roseville, who said he receives four directories a year when he only needs one. "I get that phone book on the porch and it doesn't even make it into my house. It goes right in the recycling bin."

Curbside recycling programs almost always allow residents to put out phone books with their bottles and cans. But many counties don't have these programs, said Garth Hickle, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency recycling specialist, and even in communities that do, people don't always know about it.

A study at the downtown Minneapolis incinerator last year estimated that phone books made up nearly 4 percent of the total trash delivered.

Recycling rates drop

Recycling rates of phone books have dropped statewide from about 35 percent in 2003 to less than 15 percent in 2006.

"That's a dismal recycling rate," said Cathy Moeger, MPCA director of prevention and assistance.

The dropoff has been blamed on the proliferation of phone books at the same time as directory publishers stopped taking responsibility for recycling them.

Telephone companies spun off their publishing businesses in the late 1990s, setting off competition among firms selling yellow page ads and distributing their own phone books. Hickle estimates that homes, apartments and businesses received an average 13 pounds of telephone directories last year.

"There are more publishers delivering more products because it works," said Maggie Stonecipher, associate vice president of paper, print and delivery services for R. H. Donnelley, publisher of DEX Yellow Pages for Qwest.

A 1992 Minnesota law prohibits putting phone directories in landfills or incinerators, and requires directory publishers to provide and publicize drop-off collection bins, make arrangements with recycling firms and report annually on recycling rates.

That system has largely collapsed, a state report issued last month concluded. Cities expanded curbside programs to include directories and tried to pick up the slack, but it hasn't prevented the steep drop in recycling, Moeger said.

More and more directories

Printing and delivering more directories than people need wastes energy and fuel, said Moeger, and produces greenhouse gases that the state has pledged to reduce.

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