Three Modern-day Uses for a Phone Book

I keep getting them delivered to my door—giant mounds of thin, bound paper with numbers and advertisements and more. And I'm sure they have their uses. After all, there's no place on the Internet where you can find information like this:


At the bottom of that page, there's a small section that explains what 911 is and does, while also informing you that 911 is a number, is pronounced “nine-one-one,” and is also how you dial the number. I suppose some people may need that information, but most of us probably figured it all out by the time we hit elementary school.

Granted, there are some useful bits of info in the phone book, like this page full of useful numbers for my local area:

If you don't have some of those numbers, you may want to take some time to stretch that lightbox and write them down. Some of them are national, and some aren't, so all the numbers may not apply to you. Still, we can all benefit from remembering the number to the Poison Control Center or the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.

But the waste represented by these things far outweighs the benefit of having immediate access to every important number you could possibly need (assuming none of those numbers change this year). About 650,000 tons of these paper weights are delivered to households across America every year. My own office just got a pallet of the books (and an email pleading with us to pick them up and use them). About 117,000 tons of phone books are recycled each year, most of them on the day that they're received. The rest of them wind up in landfills.

An estimated 1,474,000 metric tons of CO2-equivalents are released annually into the atmosphere by the production of phone books. Not to mention the 44.2 billion liters of water needed in that same production. And this is the environmental cost of making the things. Disposal (whether via landfill or recycling) is another matter and incurs significant additional cost.

There's a better way. If you type a business name, along with your city name or the words “near me,” into the Google search bar, then you'll see an appropriate listing of businesses. If you type a business name and the words “phone,” “customer service,” or “customer service number” into the search bar, you'll get that business's information, whether or not they've made an effort to keep it hidden. (Yes, Amazon. I know your number.) Google Maps now does a pretty good job of telling you what a business name is, where it's located, what its number is, and what its hours of operation are. Not to mention that customer reviews don't appear in the phone book. And you can't keep a phone book updated in real-time.

Really, there's no reason to be relying on paper for any information that is likely to change day-by-day. That's why phone books are horrible. Fortunately, we can be part of the solution. There's now a national website dedicated to help Americans opt-out of receiving new phone books each year. Catalog Choice can also help by blocking unwanted junk mail from clogging up your mailbox—and later your trash bin.

In the meantime, one of my coworkers and I thought up some great uses for those relatively purposeless phone books you keep getting: