Environmentalists are sometimes accused of focusing on too-small issues at home instead of bigger policy changes that could make more of a difference. Regardless of where you stand on that debate, you likely agree with me on this statement: Phone books are annoying, and I don’t want to get them anymore.

Think I’m thinking too small? Perhaps — but phone books are really bugging a whole lot of other people, too — including the cities that pay to recycle them. Last month, Seattle passed an opt-out option for phone books, requiring publishers to let people easily opt out of phone book delivery. The ordinance also set up a 14-cent fee per book delivered to cover the costs of city recycling.

Though the option was hailed by many environmentalists, some phone book companies weren’t happy — and have already sued. Dex One Corp., SuperMedia, and the Yellow Pages Association filed a suit this month, saying they have a First Amendment right to leave a giant wad of unwanted paper on your doorstep.

The main issue here seems to be the 14-cent fee — which the companies, as you might expect, don’t want to pay. After all, until now, the city of Seattle was paying a $350,000 annual recycling fee — and the companies don’t want to take over that financial burden.

Somewhat surprisingly, other phone companies are taking an entirely different tactic — at least when it comes to the white pages. Verizon is seeking permission to stop delivering residential white pages in Virginia and Maryland, and soon, in Washington, D.C. Other states have already granted similar requests, and according to the Wall Street Journal, “In states where the residential white pages are only available in paper at a resident’s request, about 2 percent of customers are asking for copies, according to the companies.”

However, other companies in the area still very much plan to deliver their white pages — and even Verizon plans to continue to deliver its yellow pages, even while touting the environmental benefits of stopping auto-delivery of the white pages. Why? Companies say people still use the tomes. Is this true? Two kids in Montreal have created video proof that a lot of people don’t use them.

While books get thrown and pages get sorted out, remember that you can opt out of getting yellow and white pages — albeit via a somewhat cumbersome, time-consuming, and not always effective process….
Much ado about phone books
Some phone book companies sue for the right to throw the yellow pages at you; others request permission to stop delivery of white pages.