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Phone books arriving on our doorsteps: Recycle, use or ignore?

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Across Minnesota, new phone books are being dropped on steps, porches and front stoops. What to do about the annual delivery?

The Chicago Tribune posed the question earlier this month, noting that 1.2 million phone books had been distributed this year to Chicago homes. "And Dex Media, one of the city’s largest telephone directory providers, is readying a fresh set of a million more for distribution this year," the story said.

Smartphones and Google have rendered the books about as relevant as Victrola needles for the younger generation. But the newspaper story said the Local Search Association, formerly the Yellow Pages Association, insists the books still serve a purpose in the digital era.

According to LSA research, 60 percent of Americans reported using a print phone book in the last year. ConservationMinnesota asks that the directories be recycled. The website includes yellow pages opt-out procedures and local recycling options. It may be a case of sending the books back where they came from; Forbes magazine noted that phone books are made from recycled paper and sawdust.

While the books may still be useful as doorsteps or to boost a child seated at a table, many consumers don't want them. An online group called BanThePhoneBook.org backs the idea of an “opt-in” phone book delivery program, which would allow consumers to receive white pages only if they so desire. The site claims 5 million trees are cut down each year to make phone books, and that only 22 percent of those phone books are properly recycled.

There is also a national yellow pages opt-out site that will keep the books from arriving at your doorstep, but it's little help unless you enter your information well in advance of when the books are delivered.

Last month, as the phone books arrived in Hudson County New Jersey, the Hudson Reporter had a little fun with some local teenagers who were unfamiliar with the directories. Wasam Yousef, 16, of Bayonne, said she knew what the yellow pages are because she had used them in class as a school exercise. The story said that older citizens, retirees and people or communities not connected to the Internet still rely on the books for information and phone numbers.

It could mean the end is coming to an old American tradition.

According to a story on Slate, the first directory was issued in 1878, when New Haven, Connecticut phone subscribers received a single-sided sheet with 11 residences and 39 businesses on it. In many homes, the story said, the phone book was the only book in the house. The story said that by 1926, the print run for the Manhattan directory passed the 6 million mark and "required a corps of 500 deliverymen, more than 500 rail-car loads of paper, and 100 tons of binding glue. And that's just in one city."

That was then, this is now. The humorous PTSOTL website had a post ("Why do phone books still exist?") that called today's directories "pointless." The post is accompanied by a dozen photos of stacks of the unwanted – and sometimes decaying – books on porches and in alleyways to prove the point.

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