Just in from the Seattle City Council – the official announcement of their vote today in favor of an “opt-out registry” you can join to stop delivery of unwanted phone books. This has been in the works since early summer (here’s our original June report). Read on for the full details (ADDED 5 PM: council news release followed by statement just e-mailed to us by the Yellow Pages Association):
Residents and businesses tired of getting two or three – or more – unwanted yellow pages phone books will soon have an efficient, effective way to stop those deliveries following today’s 8-1 City Council vote.
The new Seattle ordinance also requires yellow pages publishers to begin paying for recycling of unwanted and outdated yellow pages directories beginning next year.
The new law creates an Opt-Out Registry that Seattle residents and businesses can access on the web, by phone or by mail and requires yellow pages publishers to pay the costs of operating the registry, for which the City expects to hire a contractor. The legislation also sets out penalties for yellow pages publishers who continue to deliver books when requested not to.
“Seattleites are constantly looking for ways to reduce their impact on the environment, and the Council has heard from an overwhelming number of people who don’t want phone books,” said Councilmember Mike O’Brien, who chairs the committee and is the prime sponsor of the legislation. “Creating a one-stop shop managed by a third party will help reduce clutter, increase residential security, and, save Seattle Public Utilities customers, the people of Seattle, money. This is a win-win for Seattle.”
Based on information supplied by some of the yellow pages publishers, Seattle Public Utilities estimates nearly 2 million yellow pages phone books are dropped off in Seattle every year, costing approximately $350,000 to recycle.
Through the ordinance passed today, the Council established a fee of $0.14 per book, likely declining to $0.07 per book after five years, to pay for the registry. Based on the principle of product stewardship where producers are responsible for recycling their products at end-of life, the legislation also imposed a cost recovery fee on yellow pages publishers, requiring them to reimburse the city for the cost of collecting and recycling discarded phone books, currently $148 per ton.
“This ordinance has national significance as the first phone book opt-out requirement in the country,” said Scott Cassel, Executive Director of the Product Stewardship Institute (PSI). “PSI is using Seattle’s legislation, along with other legislative examples from around the country, to create a model bill for states and municipalities that are ready to follow Seattle’s lead.”
“We will use technology and common sense to give the public the ability to pick and choose which yellow page publications they want to receive and those they do not, all in one spot. This will not only make opting-out easier, it will also reduce our recycling costs,” said Councilmember Bruce Harrell.
“Combined with the expansion of organic waste services to multi-family housing, our work to reduce unwanted junk mail volumes and implementation of the foam ban earlier this year, the Zero Waste Strategy is decreasing our carbon footprint and keeping Seattle on track to reach the City’s recycling goal of 60 percent,” said Council President Richard Conlin.
“This new law will reduce the number of unwanted phone books left on people’s door steps and small non-profit organizations will be able to continue to distribute guides and directories to their membership or others who wish to receive them,” said Councilmember Tom Rasmussen.
The registry is expected to be ready for use no later than July 1, 2011 and publishers will begin reimbursing the City’s Solid Waste Fund for all 2011 deliveries.
Read more about the Council’s phone book ordinance here.
According to PubliCola, the lone “no” vote was Councilmember Jean Godden; their story also has reaction from the phone-book industry.
ADDED 5:04 PM: A PR company just e-mailed us this statement on behalf of Neg Norton, Yellow Pages Association president, suggesting they’re gearing up to sue:
We respect the city’s desire to reduce waste and are disappointed that our extensive efforts to work with the Council to address consumer choice in a fair and efficient way were overlooked today.
We agree that a streamlined approach to consumer choice makes the most sense, which is why Yellow Pages companies have committed to upgrading our existing site, www.yellowpagesoptout.com, so consumers across the country can visit a single, centralized hub to manage the delivery of phone books. Another new site, run by the city, will undoubtedly create more waste by duplicating efforts already underway and complicate logistics for publishers working to honor delivery requests.
We have never believed it makes sense to deliver a directory to someone who doesn’t want one. Seattle residents need not wait until the city can develop its own site to stop delivery. Residents can visit www.yellowpagesoptout.com today to find information about stopping delivery of the phone books they no longer wish to receive.
We believe the ordinance, as passed, will not hold up under legal challenge. As an industry, we are committed to reducing the number of unwanted yellow pages directories. We must, however, ensure that our members’ rights are respected and oppose any attempts to single out the yellow pages industry with disparate regulatory and financial treatment, including discriminatory license fees and advance recovery fees not applied to competing media and non-media sources of paper. The industry also opposes any provisions that compel our members to promote a duplicative, city-run program through mandatory notices on the covers of their directories.