What To Do With Your Old Yellow Pages? Don’t Simply Throw Them Away, But Recycle Them

by Christopher Boyle


NEW YORK - By now you’ve seen all the infamous pictures online of cast-aside phone books overflowing out of garbage bins and dumpsters or rotting by the thousands while lying in municipal dumping grounds, unwanted by the masses who merely have to whip out their cell phones in order to get a phone number instantly thanks to the ease and speed of the internet. The concept of print telephone directories is hopelessly outdated when compared to its web-based brethren, but while communication companies continue to churn out these relics that often plunk down on uninvited on your doorstep – unless you’ve had the gumption to opt-out of delivery – you can’t simply throw them away like so many do and expect them to be disposed of properly. These days “going green” is in, and that applies equally to your yellow pages; the only responsible thing to do is not to throw them in the trash, but to make sure they’re recycled properly.


It’s important to note that statistics indicate paper products of a wide variety of types currently make up approximately 30 percent of all waste that the human race generates as a whole, which – by overall volume alone – represents our largest source of waste by a wide margin, and phone books currently make up a large percentage of that paper waste. But it certainly doesn’t have to be that way.
Now, you may think to yourself, “Why do so many phone books end up in the trash? Isn’t paper easy to recycle?” Well, unfortunately, not all paper is created equal. In fact, many recyclers will not take phone books due to the fact that the pages in question are exceptionally light – due to the fibers being shorter than normal, a cost-cutting measure known as “mixed paper” – limiting their ability to be recycled and re-made into new paper products. It’s actually to the point that phone book paper can contaminate a batch of otherwise acceptable-quality paper, rendering the entire mix unless. However, there are ways to recycle phone books that require thinking outside the box, and doing so enables you to prevent the waste and pollution that simply discarding them into a landfill would cause.


The most obvious way to recycle a phone book is to use it to make yet more phone books; while the short fiber paper does not lend itself to other paper products, it can be re-fabricated to serve as new directories, although the fibers will require additional strengthening via the addition of scrap wood or other similar materials. But that’s not the only way that phone books can be put to use once their (very) short-lived usefulness has come to an end. Phone book paper fiber can be utilized in conjunction with other substances to create a whole greater than the sum of its parts, including useful items such as insulation materials, ceiling tiles, paper towels, fertilizer, grocery bags, cereal boxes, and certain types of lightweight copy paper.


According to studies, if everyone in the United States took steps to recycle their phone books annually, an astonishing 700,000 tons of paper – equating to over 2,000,000 cubic yards of landfill space – would be saved. In fact, for every 500 print telephone directories that are recycled, 7,000 gallons of water, 3.5 cubic yards of landfill space, an average of 23 trees, and over 4,000 kilowatts of power are saved. And again, that’s just from 500 books…imagine if everyone across the country got in on the action, and how much better it would be for our natural resources, environment, and economy.


It should be noted that a typical phone book can be wholly recycled, but it is important to make sure before doing so that there aren’t additions to the books in question that would interfere with the process; for example, many phone books come encased in plastic bags or wrapping to protect them from the elements – short fiber paper doesn’t react well to water – and that would need to be disposed of before turning the book in at a recycling center


Of course, if a recycling center is not within driving distance and your municipality doesn’t offer pick-up services, there are other ways to utilize an old phone book instead of tossing it in the trash. For example, the paper can be shredded and used for reptile bedding or as part of a home composing system, as most phone book pages are printed with vegetable and/or soy-based inks due to the fact that pages are typically uncoated.

Naturally, the end goal is to cease the use of print phone books altogether, as the digital alternatives are better in every conceivable manner. But until that happy day, the next best thing you can do for your environment in the here and now and for generations to come is to make sure you recycle your phone books until the time comes that they are no longer made.