Yellow Pages Ban Proposed In San Francisco

The Yellow Pages phone book. It's been used as packaging material, a dangerous booster seat, fire kindling, and perhaps a box for illicit items if holed-out. But in an increasingly digital age, just how often is the phone book actually used to make phone calls? San Francisco believes it's not often enough to warrant general distribution.

According to GreenBiz.com, San Francisco has proposed a law banning the distribution of unsolicited phone books. If the law goes into effect, phone companies and Yellow Pages publishers will be prohibited from leaving phone books on doorsteps and lobbies without advanced permission -- fines could be up to $500 per violation.

The companies could still contact consumers to ask if they want a delivery, and the books would still be available for pick-up at distribution centers. But the new rules could cut down on a huge amount of waste generated per year.

According to the Sierra Club, AT&T distributes nearly 1 million phone books per year to San Francisco alone -- that's over 5 million pounds of paper for that one area of California.

Statistics suggest that approximately 70% of U.S. adults rarely or never use the phone book. Even the National Yellow Pages Association and the Association of Directory Publishers has recognized this statistic, and recently launched YellowPagesOptOut, a website where customers can easily cancel their home delivery service.

But a simple opt-out website is much different from a ban on mass distribution, and not everyone is happy with San Francisco's new proposal. According to The San Francisco Chronicle, Amy Healy, a top representative of the Yellow Pages Association claims that the law "would be an infringement of our constitutional rights - the right to distribute speech." Healy also argues that the law targets just one industry, without addressing other forms of solicitation. She also states that the Yellow Pages book is far from obsolete, citing the industry statistic of 12 billion lookups per year.

But with an estimated $54 million spent per year by local governments to dispose of unwanted phone books, something has to change. If banning unsolicited materials does indeed infringe upon the Yellow Page's "right to distribute speech," could taxpayers argue that by receiving and having to dispose of these unsolicited materials, their rights are then infringed upon? As San Francisco Board of Supervisors president David Chiu proclaims, "If we're serious about the environment, it's time we recognize that phone books are a 20th century tool that doesn't meet the business or environmental needs of the 21st century."