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Going Green: San Francisco May Ban the Yellow Pages


"Phone books are a 20th century tool."

After banning Happy Meal toys and plastic bags (among other things), the city of San Francisco is now turning its attention to another pressing issue.  On Tuesday, the city's Board of Supervisors President David Chiu introduced legislation that would ban the unsolicited distribution of the Yellow Pages

Chiu argues that in the age of the Internet, the large volumes delivered to homes and offices are becoming increasingly obsolete.  As a result, he says end up going directly to the recycling bin.  Currently, Chiu's offices estimates that more than 1.5 million copies of the Yellow Pages phone books are delivered door-to-door in San Francisco every year.

"If we're serious about the environment, it's time we recognize that phone books are a 20th century tool that doesn't meet the business or environmental needs of the 21st century," said Chiu.

But not everyone is on board with Chiu's new "green" proposal.  According to the San Francisco Gate, one trade group promised to challenge the measure in court if it is approved.  Instead of allowing for an "opt-out" provision for consumers as other cities have, Chiu's proposal goes much further:

Under the proposal, phone companies and other distributors and publishers of Yellow Pages phone books would be barred from leaving them on doorsteps and in lobbies without receiving advance permission.

The Yellow Page companies could contact consumers by e-mail, direct mail, phone solicitations or in person, asking if they would like the directory. If the response is positive, the phone book could be delivered. Consumers also would be able to pick them up at a distribution center.

Unsolicited deliveries, however, could result in fines of up to $500 for each violation. The law would be enforced by the city's Department of the Environment.

The white pages - whose general distribution is mandated by state law - would not be affected. Dual white and Yellow Pages phone books would have to abide by the new restrictions, if they are approved.

According to the Yellow Pages Association, the proposed measure "would be an infringement of our constitutional rights - the right to distribute speech," a spokesperson for the group said, noting that the Yellow Pages business actually represents a $13-billion-a-year industry.  (Who knew?)

She said that it would unfairly target one industry. Direct-mail companies, phone solicitors and the like would not face the same clampdown, she said.

Ditching the Yellow Pages altogether may also pose problems for small businesses who solicit new customers with their ads.

The Yellow Pages aren't just unpopular in San Fran -- the Seattle city council is considering a similar proposal.

If you don't wish to receive a copy of the Yellow Pages, the association offers an opt-out site:

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