No more phone books? City Council OK’s ‘opt-out’ plan

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The new Seattle ordinance also requires yellow pages publishers to begin paying for recycling of unwanted and outdated yellow pages directories beginning next year.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,, 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 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.

44 Replies to "No more phone books? City Council OK's 'opt-out' plan"

  • Koni October 11, 2010 (3:57 pm)

    Whoooooo hoooooo! FINALLY!

  • Heather October 11, 2010 (4:06 pm)

    Yay!! Where do I sign!! My office gets about 12 books several times a year, and it drives me crazy. We don’t use them at ALL.

  • marty October 11, 2010 (4:09 pm)

    Great!! I can’t believe it took them months to finally come up with what should have been an obvious answer.

  • Metal Jesus October 11, 2010 (4:10 pm)

    This is AWESOME news! I was frustrated to see another one of these stupid books on my front porch just last week.

  • E October 11, 2010 (4:11 pm)

    Yay!!!!!!!!!!!! About time.

  • blander October 11, 2010 (4:29 pm)

    Perfect! Now can we do something about the freaking newspaper sized wad of unsolicited advertizing I get in my mailbox every day?

  • Yardvark October 11, 2010 (5:00 pm)

    You can also opt-out of almost every catalog you receive through this website:

    It’ll soon work for junk mail as well.

    It’s ridiculous how much waste there is out there.

    Well done, City Council.

  • David October 11, 2010 (5:01 pm)

    WOW! That is awesome!

    • WSB October 11, 2010 (5:08 pm)

      Just added to story, e-mailed statement from Yellow Pages Association via PR firm. Could be interpreted to say court challenge inevitable – TR

  • JimClark October 11, 2010 (5:07 pm)

    Why is this kind of thing and many others always Opt Out they should all be Opt in

  • Julie October 11, 2010 (5:10 pm)

    Blander, yes, you can: It takes persistence, but it does eventually pay off.

    1. Sign up with Catalog Choice and opt out of all the catalogs you receive (CC will advocate on your behalf and gives you a way to track violations).

    2. Register your opt-out with the DMA: (Note, this costs $1 if you mail it in; it’s free if you do it online, but they ask for a credit card?????!!!!)

    3. Call 1-888-5-OPTOUT to remove your name from credit card, etc. solicitations by the big 4 (TransUnion, Experian, Equifax, and Innovis).

    OR, replace 2 and 3 with: (my preference) Catalog Choice has just added an unlisting service for an annual donation of $20 or more. I’d prefer to support CC in return for their doing the monitoring for me all in one place.

    Now, why it should cost you any time or money at all to do this is a different debate. You may want to express support to your congressional representatives for a Do Not Junk registry.

  • J October 11, 2010 (5:15 pm)

    Neg, I’ve been trying unsuccessfully to opt out of yellow pages for a few years now. Industry keeps saying they have “improved” the system, but just last week, another phone book almost arrived on my doorstep. I say, almost arrived, because I happened to be here. I ran out and told the deliverer that I had opted out and they shouldn’t deliver one. The person who was delivering had no opt-out list, their English was limited to “sorry”, and clearly they were just interested in getting the books on every doorstep as fast as possible. Until your industry is held accountable for honoring these lists, your opt-out registry is useless.

  • Carson October 11, 2010 (5:20 pm)

    There is also a huge “finally being able to stick it to the man” element for lots of people. 10-15 years ago the Yellow Pages was the only and best way for many people to advertise. The Yellow Pages knew it and really stuck it to you with really really high rates. To many, this monopoly couldn’t end soon enough.

  • blander October 11, 2010 (5:21 pm)

    Great, thanks for the info Julie!

  • Proud Day October 11, 2010 (6:48 pm)

    I’ve wished for so long for something like this. To everyone who made this happen: thank you. I can’t wait until the first one shows up on my doorstep so I can report them.

  • Bob October 11, 2010 (7:05 pm)

    I’m sorry but this is a freedom of speech issue. Since Yellow Pages has been forced down this road who is next. It should also be applied to Real Estate flyers, door hangers,pizza flyers, free newspapers, and other sundry junk mail. If you are going to do it for one then you have to do it for all. I personally think that the total amount of flyers, free local newspapers and junk mail that ends up in my mail box everyday, would result in a mountain of junk far larger than one or two yellow page directories that I have to recycle once a year. Get a life Seattle City Council!

  • marty October 11, 2010 (7:29 pm)

    Good to see this gone, but don’t mess with my Victoria’s Secret catalogs!!!!!!!!!!

  • Carson October 11, 2010 (7:33 pm)


    Where in West Seattle are you that you get free newspapers delivered to your door? If they Yellow Pages wanted to pay postage to deliver the book, that might be a different issue, at least they would be subsidizing our postage rates like all other commercial mailers. Right now, they trespass and litter in order to deliver the book. I don’t see how freedom of speech is involved, if anything they are committing a crime, littering.

  • M. October 11, 2010 (8:02 pm)

    Over the years I have had to devote so many hours to stop all the unwanted, unsolicited mail and flyers. I now get zero unwanted mail, and must also keep a sign by my front door asking to please leave no flyers. I do understand the right of advertisers, but also hope for a single call or an opt-in approach. Perhaps the Council would have better served those not wishing those books, by helping streamline the opt-out process that already exists. Forcing costs onto the companies that publish and deliver may only set up more costs for the City, as litigation.

  • beth October 11, 2010 (8:30 pm)

    I followed the link on the Yellow Pages Association update and opt-ed out. They were right; an additional city-run program isn’t necessary. The city just needs to advertise the already existing, free resource. That would save us all some money, including the city.

  • Eddie October 11, 2010 (8:59 pm)

    Ya know, if buggy whips carried advertising on them, they’d probably still be handing those out for free.

    The times are a changing, and it’s time that the directory publishing (and print advertising selling) businesses woke up and smelled the internet. These things don’t change overnight, but you have to feel a bit sorry for the poor advertisers that spend their limited funds on what used to be the only game in town.

  • Eddie October 11, 2010 (9:02 pm)

    And another thing: How is that stip of advertising on the right side of this page any different from the phone book on your doorstep? Yeah, there’s “all the wasted paper” in the book, but I’m still not looking at 1/100,000th of the advertising that bombards all of my “free internet content” – such as WSB, The Seattle Times, The PI, and virtually every other internet site I visit.

    “Think of the wasted bandwidth…..”

  • Carson October 11, 2010 (9:06 pm)


    Who do you think pays for WSB? Not you and I…..get your checkbook out, I am sure you can work out a deal to get all those ads removed.

    Remember, you came here of your own free will. I never asked for the phone book. Huge difference.

  • Peggie October 11, 2010 (9:13 pm)

    I hope this works better than the current opt-out system that the yellow pages uses. I tried using their website to opt out more than a year ago, and still end up recycling unwanted phone books twice a year.

  • J October 11, 2010 (9:16 pm)

    Good luck with that, beth…

  • Wisepunk October 12, 2010 (12:09 am)

    Most of these delivery guys are paid by the book, so they have no list. It’s just a couple of junkies in a beat up van trying to move as many books as they an, regardless of the law. Hell, I worked at qwest and I opted out, still got 8 directories a year. Try to deliver them back to the qwest building and and you are littering and trespassing!

  • Sonoma October 12, 2010 (1:19 am)

    But ripping phone books in half is great for muscle-building! Darn.

  • Greg October 12, 2010 (5:36 am)

    I just take mine to the qwest building at 65th NE and 15th (right across from the whole foods, its an unmarked brick building) and leave it on the doorstep. It’s very satisfying.

  • Eddie October 12, 2010 (6:20 am)

    Carson – I get it. Who pays for the phone books, not the publisher (which by the way hasn’t been the phone company for quite some time). Advertisers do. They pay to have their ad composed, printed and delivered to the public. The choice they made was the medium – printed in a book on yellow pages and dropped on doorsteps. The advertisers on every web page you view choose a different medium – electrons slung over wires and randomly displayed on a page that someone actually clicked to view the “content” on. You put up with the “hassle” of receiving unwanted electrons on your computer and on your screen, or you put up with the “hassle” of receiving unwanted yellow paper on your doorstep. Not really all that different.

  • Carson October 12, 2010 (6:52 am)

    Not even close. You don’t need to look at web pages. Actually, you can use filters with Firefox to block all ads, they just become white spaces. Web viewing is voluntary, getting the yellow pages, is not. Again, I have no issue with ads, not even yellow page ads, I can go to if I choose, and I choose not to.

  • austin October 12, 2010 (7:52 am)

    I enjoy the magnets that come on the front of phone books. I like to put stickers on em. My recycling bin is not far. I wonder how many people who complain about the “waste” of printing phone books drive a car every day.

  • the dude 2.0 October 12, 2010 (8:16 am)

    Neg Norton can you just have it delivered to my recycle bin? I’m tired of taking it off my front steps and back to my recycle bin.

  • HolyKow October 12, 2010 (10:19 am)

    TO: The phone book company lawyers that think this is a bad idea:

    I say boo on you…I have tried this ‘existing site,, so consumers across the country can visit a single, centralized hub to manage the delivery of phone books.’…

    AND…guess who still got phone books eventho I ‘opted out’ of EVERY SINGLE ONE that was listed there, and on the Verizon site, and the 2 other major landfiller phonebook providers…and they keep on comin’

    If you would have done your job, you would not be here now. And now…here you are.

    Great job…


  • D.C. October 12, 2010 (10:59 am)

    “You put up with the “hassle” of receiving unwanted electrons on your computer and on your screen, or you put up with the “hassle” of receiving unwanted yellow paper on your doorstep. Not really all that different.”

    It’s very different. I can choose whether or not to come to WSB and read news (and the ads on the right side). I have no choice in all the litter left on my property in the form of phone books, flyers, mailed newspaper ads, etc.

    I never use a phone book, yet they pile up on my porch and get all wet and nasty, making my place and my neighborhood look crappy and requiring me to take time to go clean up a bunch of unwanted junk being dumped on my property? I’m pretty pro-business and very anti-regulation, but how can anyone consider this okay?

  • Jim P. October 12, 2010 (12:02 pm)

    Be interesting to see how much it will cost if the thinly veiled threat by the Yellow Pages group to sue over this comes to pass.

    The fact that they are willing to sue over it puts the lie to their claim that they don’t want to send their books to anyone who does not want them.

    Their “opt out” page is a bad joke as all it does is provide you with contact information for the sundry companies they represent and suggest you contact each one on your own dime to get off their list.

    Basically, they really *want* to get as many books out as possible, whether you want them or not as their advertising rates are based on distribution.

    They don’t give a hoot if you actually *use* the thing as you don’t pay for it, they get their revenue from the businesses buying ad space and those businesses get lulled by things like “Our Yellow Pages is distributed to 80% of the homes in city X”.

    If those numbers go down, the publisher will make less money and that’s their real beef. Consumer choice is about 47th on their list of priorities.

  • Carson October 12, 2010 (12:14 pm)

    Jim P,

    You hit that right on the head. There’s a great idea for a referendum that might easily pass. Require the Phone book companies to only deliver to people that “opt in” to get the books!!

  • knm October 12, 2010 (2:54 pm)

    AMEN Carsend & Jim P.!!!!!!!!!!!

    Just think of all those advertising dollars going to the recycle bins. Pitty that reality hasn’t hit those advertisers yet.

  • Susan October 12, 2010 (4:10 pm)

    This is great news!!!! Awesome :o)

  • redblack October 12, 2010 (5:49 pm)

    what knm said: i agree with carson and jim.
    neg norton, where have you made *any* effort to let homeowners know that they can opt out of having you litter on their properties?
    i’m guessing it’s in some 2-point type in the middle of the phone book.
    and to whoever said that the phone company is out of the phone book business: not really. if that was true i wouldn’t have to pay for an unpublished phone number.

  • Jack Johanson October 14, 2010 (7:34 am)

    Sounds like overkill to me. I can’t wait until the city tells us we can’t have a McDonalds anymore because it is unhealthy, and can’t eat chicken anymore because they don’t like the way it’s raised, and can’t get coffee anymore because they don’t use “fair trade” coffe, etc. etc. etc. When businesses stop ADVERTISING in the books they’ll go away. And, when you need a plumber, and electrician, a taxi cab, a muffler for your car, a pizza, where do you look????

  • Dan October 14, 2010 (11:38 am)

    Don’t see how anyone thinks this is logically the right thing to do. In a tough economy, some workers have basically been voted out of their jobs. You may not want a phone book, but think of all the people it affects. To the poster above, let’s keep going from here and get rid of more businesses and put more people out of work. Let’s get that unemployment rate to 50%. We can do it. If the book was unused, pretty sure they would stop delivering, but people still use these things, so they continue to. This affects all the publishers, the delivery people, and the local businesses that thrive on people using the books. We’re hurting our own economy.

  • Lady October 27, 2010 (8:39 pm) is a joke. I went through the process of opting myself out when the day I read this story. Yesterday I received a phonebook. Today I received follow up robocall ensuring that my phone book was delivered. This is the opt out process?!

Sorry, comment time is over.