The phonebook, already on the way out, is getting a merciless kicking because of its non-green credentials - and in the UK the 'anti's seem to be on a roll. The Local Government Association is a convert to the anti-phonebook cause and Yellow Pages has announced that it will shrink the size of its book to make them go through letterboxes and have less impact on the planet. By Ian Scales.
It's not that I have a particularly nostalgic fondness for the things. In fact the last time I remember using a Yellow Pages it was just as frustrating as ever - the unwieldy tome with its ultra-thin flyaway pages was difficult to open and then keep open at any particular spot; the print was small and you couldn't 'click' on anything. In short, for the techno-habituated user, a session with a phone book is about as attractive a proposition as curling up with a Dead Sea Scroll.
There's no denying that the charge-sheet against phonebooks in general and the Yellow Pages in particular adds up to an open and shut case from an environmental standpoint. The fact that they tend to be very large books using up lots of tree product wouldn't be so bad were they to be loved and used for their year or so of shelf-life.
But of course the fact is that today most phonebooks are not used much or at all because more and more people are either using directory enquiries or the Web to find local businesses. And more and more people put themselves ex-directory, so personal numbers have to be acquired in a different way in an case.
So it's hardly surprising that many phonebooks no doubt stay in their plastic covers before being thrown out after a year to be replaced by the new one.
According to the self-styled anti-phonebooks lobby in the UK, "independent research indicates that 41 per cent of households no longer use printed directories at all," which sounds about right. And a highish proportion of the remaining 59 per cent remain probably use them on a very occasional basis.
The ‘Say No To Phonebooks’ campaign (which seems to be a front brand for an online directory called 192.com) points out that if the 41 per cent of phonebook refuseniks didn't actually automatically get the books delivered (whether they wanted them or not, as happens in the UK) then it would save "25,420 tonnes of annual waste that currently needs to be managed by local councils." It would also mean that telephone users would have to resort to the likes of 192.com, of course, though this isn't mentioned.
And, as with any carbon-counting exercise, you can add on lots of extra environmental damages such as the energy spent on delivery, the oil and water used in the production and recycling processes (unless the things end up as landfill) and so on.
The ‘Say No To Phonebooks’ campaign wants phonebooks to be 'opt-in' rather than 'opt out' on the basis that most people are too inert to bother getting their names scratched off the delivery list (they're probably canny to the well-known fact that opt-outs don't work - sales call opt-outs, for instance, never make a difference as the calls keep on coming just as they always have.)
No doubt the opt-in argument will win: those people who still want to use phonebooks rather than go online or use telephone dirctory numbers will still do so if they take the time to opt in. Those who can do without them won't even notice the difference.
It all sounds logical, but there is still something distasteful about the 'greener than thou' attitude which permeates the campaign against phonebooks in the UK (and no doubt in much of the rest of the developed world). To those who want to speed the inevitable move to online directories: maybe phonebooks will finally die off once online local directories are more useful and much easier to use than they are at present.
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