junk mail phone booksThere’s a new national opt-out system for several phone book distributors, presumably the result of pressure, from cities like Portland and Seattle, on phone book deliverers to clean up their act. Color me skeptical—especially because I live in an apartment building that routinely gets a bulk dump of unwelcome on the front doorstep—but, having long ago ceased relying on these paper dinosaurs to look up local businesses, I decided to give it a try.

Sadly, the site is far from user-friendly. Intentionally difficult? It’s hard to say… In any case, Sarah Mirk over at the Portland Mercury has some good step-by-step instructions to get you through the process—and they’re needed. The site uses every worst-practice in the book to make it hard to opt-out, including making you register with a password, setting “1” as the default number of phone books you’d like to receive (it’s easy to forget to change that to zero), and adding several extra “confirm” steps to make sure your preferences are saved.

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  • And that’s only if you can get the site to load in the first place; the site moves at a snail’s pace. Apparently the folks at Yellow Pages didn’t realize just how many people desperately wanted to banish paper listing books from their lives forever.

    Plus, they require an email address and phone number to get through the process, and while their own privacy policy states they won’t sell your info, they will give it to member phone book companies who might not be so considerate.

    After all that, if you have a minute (and the patience), it’s worth taking a look around the site to read some of the “helpful” information they’ve included (like an illegibly-small-typed sustainability report) and some “did you know” facts that prove they really don’t get why people don’t want to receive their products (Friendly hint from this green-minded consumer: It’s not because your phone books aren’t made from adequate percentages of recycled paper, it’s that for most people, they’re totally obsolete).

    Don’t get me wrong—this is a good step forward, even if it’s poorly executed. Better yet would be for Yellow Pages marketers to adopt an “opt-in” system where residents give permission to receive a book. And I’d still encourage cities and states to keep the pressure on these companies by enforcing recycling rules and penalizing those that don’t comply with opt-out registries.

    I won’t know if this system actually worked for me for another 6-12 weeks. But just maybe the pile of phone books that haven’t budged from my door will stop growing—at least by one.

    Phone book photo taken by Alan Durning while documenting his collection of a year’s worth of junk mail.