The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

February 22, 2010

Dear Valley Yellow Pages. Sorry I Was Mean.

Valley Yellow Pages unwanted phone booksOMG.  You won’t believe what happened Friday.  I still don’t believe it myself.  Here’s the story.

After hassling with Valley Yellow Pages (not to be confused with AT&T Yellow Pages) last year to be taken off their automatic delivery list, I was finally assured that I would no longer receive their unwanted plastic-bagged phone books.  So you can imagine how irritated I was when a new one showed up on my doorstep last week.

Immediately, I sent the following caustic email.  I was irritated and probably hormonal.  I usually prefer to catch my flies with sugar, despite being a mosquito in their bedrooms. But hey, no one’s perfect.

From: Beth Terry
Date:  Thu, Feb 18, 2010 at 12:57 PM
Subject: Re:  Re: Please stop delivering directories to me

Dear Valley Yellow Pages,

In April 2009, I opted out of the Valley Yellow Pages.  As you can see from the response below, I was assured by Sue Shoemaker that I would be opted out from any future directories.  And yet I just received another one.  In a PLASTIC BAG!

I do not want it.  EVER.  In fact, I would like you to send someone over here to pick this one up.  Since you have not kept your promise not to send it to me anymore, I would appreciate if you would fix this problem and take this unwanted, unsolicited junk mail off my hands.

It is NOT acceptable to tell residents that they must opt out every year.  You know that no one will remember to do it.  This is your way of greenwashing your book, when in reality is appears that you have no intention of opting anyone out.

Sending unwanted paper and plastic to people who don’t want it is an incredible waste of resources and is hard on our environment.  Please stop.  And please come and pick up this book.

I am cc’ing this message to the California Product Stewardship Council.

Beth Terry

So, um, the following day? A guy shows up at my door and says, “I’m here to pick up a phone book.”

Wait.  What???

“Are you from Valley Yellow Pages?” I asked.

“Yeah.  Do you have a phone book for me?”

Holy crap.  I never thought anyone would really come.  The phone book was still sitting on the shelf inside the front door, but I’d already stuck the plastic bag in with my collection for February.  I ran to go get it and then handed the guy both book and bag and watched as he trotted away.  It was as if the whole delivery had never happened.

So Valley Yellow Pages, I will give you props for sending someone to come and fix your mistake, and I am sorry I was mean.

Nevertheless, you have to change your policy to let people opt IN for the phone book instead of delivering it automatically. Your opt out page reads,

** Please note – Your Opt-Out request must be submitted annually at least 8 weeks prior to the distribution of your areas directory. To review our distribution schedule click here.

But see, that’s not good enough. First of all, most people won’t ever see your opt-out policy.  And second, even if they do, who’s going to remember to call every year to opt out?  Most people are not as tenacious as I am, nor do they have time to keep on top of what phone books are delivered to them.  I’m sure there are some residents who still want the phone book, but quite a few will just throw it out, opting for the Internet version instead. What a waste of resources.

Just so you know, I’m supporting several efforts to help prevent unwanted phone books like yours from being delivered in the future.

First, California Senator Leland Yee has just introduced legislation (SB 920) to prohibit telephone companies from delivering the white pages unless the customer opts-in to receiving it.   I’m all for that bill and will do whatever I can to help it gets passed.  But SB 920 only applies to the white pages.  So,

Second, I am joining the Yellow Pages Goes Green campaign to allow residents to opt out of unwanted phone books.  Valley Yellow Pages, I hope that you will honor all opt-out requests from this organization.

Finally, I’m urging all Fake Plastic Fish readers to take action against unwanted, unsolicited deliveries of phone books or junk mail or door hangers, or anything else.  I’m asking them to call or write you and your friends to complain.  Raise a ruckus.  But also? To be nice.  See, I don’t believe you guys are trying to irritate us on purpose.  But if we don’t speak up, how will you know?

Feb 2011 Update:  It is now easier than ever to opt out of all Yellow Pages directories. Visit to manage your Yellow Pages delivery options.

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Ed Kohler
11 years ago

That is pretty awesome to hear someone with the Valley Yellow Pages scold you about how you handled your print directory spam from Valley YP after specifically asking them to stop spamming you. As you say, this entire blog post would never had happened if Valley Yellow Pages simply honored the promise that they made to you.

11 years ago

As a former account executive, with Valley Yellow Pages, i find your article filled with hipocracy. First of all your comment, “Not to be confused with AT&T Yellow Pages” as If AT&T is on a higher order, or they use recycled paper that automatically evaporates when the issue expires. You show so much concern for our environment. Did you realize the amount of fuel you wasted to go and pick up your unwanted phonebook?
Phone books are made from the pulp, of useless wood products, NOT trees as so many so called environmentalists and politicians lead you to believe.
Perhaps it would be better, if you receive an unwanted phonebook, to mix it up with your garden mulch. Now that’s a green idea. LOL :)

11 years ago

When I was little my dad called to opt out of receiving a local classifieds paper that got dumped on our lawn every week. The company said they would opt us out but they didn’t stop delivering. After calling to complain several times he eventually called the local police and the company ended up getting charged with a large number of littering charges because we were able to get a number of people in our community to add their complaints to my father’s.
They soon stopped delivery of the classified paper all together. I think it’s still available outside the grocery store but at least there people can opt-in instead of trying to opt-out.

Katie M
12 years ago

Also, my husband and I just sent FIVE! different versions of YP / Yellow Book to be recycled from our business (we kept 1 for reference) and plan on looking into the opt out options fro both companies before the 2011 ones come out next month.

Katie M
12 years ago

“But no one is dropping unrequested breakfast cereal or magazines on my door step!”

Coincidentally someone did just that to us this week! A small sample box of cereal & packet of oatmeal from Quaker in side a plastic bag 4X what would have even been needed. :(
I plan on calling the 800# on the package from RedPlum Advertising to complian & request to be taken off mailing list Monday morn.

12 years ago

After passing the pile of unwanted AT&T Yellow Pages in the lobby of my apartment building, I did a bit of research and emailing and found the person that could arrange a pick up of the books.

PLEASE NOTE: The following information is for AT&T Yellow Pages only

If you live in CA or NV, you can contact Jeff Adams, Distribution Manager-AT&T Advertising Solutions, ja4648 at att dot com to have your unwanted AT&T Yellow Pages pick up. If you live outside of CA or NV maybe Jeff can direct you to the distribution manager in your area.


Ed Kohler
12 years ago

As SHobbs (that’s Stephanie Hobbs, a PR person for the yellow pages industry) points out, it’s getting easier to opt-out. However, what hasn’t gotten easier is actually NOT receiving yellow pages. For example, today, I received Yellowbook’s directory after opting out of that in 2008. They also delivered it to me in 2009.

Qwest Dex also delivered their book to me after I previously contacted them to opt-out.

So, don’t get your hopes up about solving anything by contacting the companies. Instead, we can waste even more gas by having YP companies make special trips out to pick up the books they never should have delivered in the first place.

It’s truly a broken system.

Mary K
12 years ago

One phone company here just got permission to stop printing its white pages directory in two counties. It is still available upon request. Now if I just didn’t get all the other phone books I don’t EVER use….

12 years ago

I hate this time of year because we get so many flyers from lawn care people. I think last year we got at least 50 from the same company. We called and nothing ever came of it. So frustrating.

12 years ago

It’s easy, if you want to reduce, customize or eliminate delivery of Yellow Pages, our publishers want to help you. After all, it doesn’t make sense to deliver books to consumers who aren’t going to use them.
Just go to: and follow the easy instructions.
This site is sponsored by YP publishers and unlike third-party sites, it works.
FYI, 8 out of 10 US adults still use the YP and small businesses count on it to bring in new customers, critical in this economy. Full disclosure, I work for the Yellow Pages Association and for more information about our industry, go to

12 years ago

You just inspired me to call my phone company and opt out (which I had been planning on doing for months, it just slipped my mind). And our opting out is apparently for good, until you move. Thanks!

12 years ago

Wow, I guess I never took into consideration the amount of phone books that get tossed, especially here in NYC. Every year, there’s a case of phone books sitting next to our stairwell in our building, and maybe one or two will be taken. I took one when I first moved in, but I don’t really use it anyway (thanks to Yelp and other sites), and I use it as a prop to keep my bathroom window open, more than I open the actual book.

This post really has me thinking on how to stop delivery to my building, and if the residents share my same concern. Maybe I’ll start a petition to present to my landlord? Do you have any suggestions?

Thank you thank you for the eye opener!!

12 years ago

Oh, I am soooooooo with you!

Every year we get phone books. Sometimes two or three copies of the same thing.

Go to any city, and you’ll see piles of them sitting outside of apartment blocks.

And it PISSES me off!

‘Nuff said. Thanks for acting on it. I’ll try to remember to do so here as well. That’ll make at least two of us!

maria elena
12 years ago

Feeling you on the phonebooks. They are so useless nowadays with internet….unless, you don’t have internet, which in any case is more reason to request them instead.
So get this, we had a huge pile delivered to my apt. complex and low and behold no one took any. The books were sitting out there for like a week…and just as I was about to recycle them, the on-site manager chucks them in the TRASH! I pulled what I could out and recycled them. But why are we having to recycle so much paper no one has ever used…they shouldn’t waste the resources in making them in the first place.
On another note, I live in Berkeley. Do you have any issues in Oakland with Apartment complexes not complying with recycling standards? It’s really bad to in Berkeley too because of the student population. I’ve had to label all the trash and recycling bins myself and people still don’t sort things out.

12 years ago

Good for you! We get 2 here, and for a small town I think that’s INSANE. I never thought of opting out. You’re totally right…I don’t even need 1! Thanks for this great idea… off to go opt out….

Al @ Las Vegas SEO
12 years ago

I really hate coming home and seeting the yellow pages in front of my door. I knew they would become obsolete but I don’t think the phone book company is catching on.

12 years ago

Great job with the phone book! I love reading about people taking action!
I posted about your blog post on lighters on my blog today. I had never thought of it before. I don’t use one very often but with summer approaching and grilling season lurking ahead, it is nice to see other options.

12 years ago

Now what would happen if phone books were like tide books– sold in various places around ton unwrapped, to be bought if needed?

Where I live, tide books are sold at banks (dunno why), groceries, some restaurants, sporting gods shops, the Harbormasters… I usually get several, because I live on the water and need the coordination. :) But phone books? I rarely use them, and most numbers stay the same. It would be really nice to be able to go pick one up every decade or so, when pages start shedding and there’s a new generation of numbers to learn… instead of having a foot-high stack of the silly things next to my desk.

12 years ago

I went through this at work again this year after opting out after last years delivery. The phone book company delivered twice as many books this year (I wasn’t in the office at the time). My hair was on fire. I called the producers of the phone book, I can’t remember who at this point, and asked they pick them up. They didn’t.

I also called the building management, it’s a high rise, and explained that as a result of their security allowing the distributors in the building they were only producing more work for their janitorial staff as the books went immediately into recycling of which they were responsible. A few weeks later I also sent the building management the information of the introduction of the bill to opt in instead of opt out. If they can see the benefit there’s the potential for a bigger voice than mine which dutifully opted out again but then offered a cash reward to any coworker who caught and banished any phone book delivery person from our floor without a single book being left behind!

Thanks for you good work and spreading the word.

12 years ago

I was impressed by your letter. Where I live, on Cape Cod, most homes belong to non-residents. That does not matter to the phone book delivery man. Once a year he rides our road by car, tossing phone books, wrapped in plastic, into the bushes without caring whether the phone books get found or not.

I agree with the comment that they should simply be eliminated.

12 years ago

Funny, I just heard an article on NPR news the other day about phone book printing companies lobbying (successfully) against bills that require opting in to receiving phone books. Seems there is a lobby to prevent almost every positive change you can think of making. According to the article, at least one phone book is printed for every single American alive, despite the fact that almost nobody uses them and that they are difficult to recycle and require special equipment at recycling centers. Here is the article:

Jen (yup, another one)
12 years ago

I don’t think there’s any need for you to apologize. If more people responded like that, maybe they’d take a different approach. The opt-out approach is absurd. Go Beth!!

12 years ago

I wouldn’t be quick to apologize to them… I think it’s actually routine practice to come back through and do “sweeps”, collecting unwanted books to dump at other people’s doors. I’m going through this as an apartment manager now. So far this year, we’ve had 3 or 4 deliveries (from various companies), and each time I call them and say please can we NOT HAVE THESE??? They tell me no, I don’t have the right to keep the directories from tenants who might want them. Okay… so I tell them how much more sense it would make to post a flyer with a phone number for people who want them. They say no. They’re happy to deliver, then wait 2-3 day and do their “sweep”. It’s aggravating as hell!

12 years ago

I am extremely impressed that they sent someone to pick up the book. The last couple of times the VYP people have come by my door I have caught them and asked them to not leave the book (one of the perks of working from home). The AT&T phone book people however prove to be more elusive. A couple of years ago I spent nearly an hour on the phone and searching the internet for an opt-out option from AT&T, but found none. What I do now if I get an AT&T book is I put it in my trunk and next time I am near an AT&T store I take it in, drop it on the counter, and walk out without saying a word. I have to admit, I rather enjoy doing this.

12 years ago

I agree… VYP and Merced Sun Star bug me to no end. Not because they deliver here… but because VYP delivers us the book to the next county over (and is no use to us) and the Sun Star keeps delivering papers after we canceled our subscription. In fact, they use to deliver two papers, and dispite 3 distinct calls in the past year telling them we no longer take the paper, we still get a paper.

I could understand getting something like the AT&T Yellow Pages if you are an ATT customer (at least THEY stopped sending multiple books!)

I wish that you could opt out using the same services that let you opt out of junk mail.

12 years ago

Beth – great post! I’ve taken up the torch and mentioned your piece in my post. Best wishes!

Lisa @ Retro Housewife Goes Green
12 years ago

I would have been shocked as well!

12 years ago

LOL Go get em beth! I hat all the yellow pages- Qwest, at&t, banana book that seem to end up on my front porch! For I just got tired of trying to get off their lists and recycle the phone book and reuse the plastic bag.

12 years ago

Love your blog! You’ve definitely made me aware of how much plastic is in our lives and how difficult it is to convince retailers and grocery stores to do without. Last nite, at our dinner table, I counted 3 containers of “stuff” in plastic: a plastic pepper mill, hot sauce and soy sauce. I’m making more determined decisions to buy in glass vs plastic, but sometimes there isn’t a choice. Well, I guess the choice would be not to buy it. Your email wasn’t mean at all and it reminded me of the 2 phone calls and 3 emails I made to opt-out of a weekly advertising booklet which was delivered in my mailbox. The company has a website, so why should it be so difficult to not get a booklet delivered? The contact info for the company we hidden in tiny letters on the bottom of a page, and you had to go thru hoops on the website to opt-out. It took them 4 months and a very irate phone call to get them to stop.

12 years ago

I think that was a fair email that you sent. And I also like your proposed solution. We get so much useless mail, and I know we’re not the only ones. If enough people request a change, it can happen.

Eco Mama
12 years ago

Good for you! I agree with you totally. A few months ago, someone dropped two on my porch while I was home. I quickly opened the door and said, “Excuse me, could you please take these, I don’t want them.” He said, “You can just recycle them.” I said, “No, You can just recycle them, please take them, I do not want these.” And I had to really push to get him to take them back. It’s very frustrating and I don’t understand the disconnect or why it’s even legal for them to put this stuff on our property. Same with junk mail. We all have a job now to shred and manage junk mail, it’s ridiculous, so much waste.
Eco Mama

12 years ago

You’re hilarious! I love this post, like MicheleP wrote ‘your human’. I too would have been pretty upset.
Its been one month now and I’m starting to get a firm grip on what is plastic, where it’s hiding and how to avoid it. However Paris is not very accommodating. I have yet to find a bulk store that would allow me to refill my laundry/dish detergent. Also the no poo is starting to see the light (the first couple tries were not very sexy, so I decided to take it one step at a time and it’s a lot more attractive, even more so then before I started to ease off the poo). I did encounter something I feel is worth sharing. The other day I brought my own cloth bag to the grocery store and used it for my apples. The woman at the counter was appalled, told me not to do that and especially not to complain because I would be playing .10 more due to the extra weight of the bag.

12 years ago

Oh, this is one of my pet peeves, too. Ever since we moved to our current house, we’ve been the unwilling recipients of weekly newspaper ads in a plastic newspaper bag, and it seems like quarterly phone books in a plastic bag. I finally got the newspapers to stop when they came to my door to try and get me to subscribe, and I asked nicely for the weekly drops to stop. I’ve only had one or two random ones since. The phone books, not so lucky. I wish I knew how to make them stop, because they all go directly into the recycle bin. I haven’t used a paper phone book since Google took over my life. :)

12 years ago


Instead of demanding someone come get the book, you should have said “I am so angry it would take $1,000 to get me to calm down!”

Then you’d be the recipient of a $1,000 bill now instead of simply losing one phone book. Don’t feel bad, just keep my suggestion in mind for next time.

On the bagged stuff, I routinely pull plastic bagged newspapers out of our condo recycling bins, bins that have a label that says no plastic bags. Since the bags that the newspapers come in can be recycled along with grocery bags, I hike them over to the local grocery store. I think the phone books come in a different kind of plastic – but maybe it is just thicker.

12 years ago

You call that being mean?! Wow! I must be awful then! That read direct, assertive and factual to me.

12 years ago

This is why we love you Beth. You are so human. :-)

I’ll be surfing on over to YellowPagesGoesGreen right away!

12 years ago

O M G. That was brilliant! I could just see your face when they came to the door. I would be just as shocked [and a bit sheepish] if someone came to my door in response to my rant… I hope Safeway comes to my door to pick up the plastic bottle of Italian Soda that I wrote them about! [they used to be in glass, you know]. Anyway, another job well done.

12 years ago

What you are doing is absolutely great! I’m still trying to figure out this whole recycling bit myself as the number of garbage cans at work started at one, to two, to now three. It is awesome to read that there are people out there who genuinely want to help the earths environment.

12 years ago

We don’t very often get these books but I put them to good use – as a cat scratching post. My cat LOVES scratching these books to shreds and it saves my carpet and furniture!

12 years ago

Good dialogue opens doors….And on that note, Beth, I enjoyed seeing your letter to the editor in this week’s Plastics News (re plastic bags). I have always felt that you are “preaching to the choir” on the blog and should try to engage with industry more. Nice letter.

12 years ago

The only phone book I use is a yellow pages that the former owners of my house left there as a door stop to let air flow through the upstairs. That book must have been one they brought from their old house, because it’s dated before even they bough the house. It’s from 2001. Why do I use an old yellow pages? Because the only time I use it is for new business (contractors for the house, mostly), and I don’t want someone who hasn’t been in business since at least 2001 putting wrench to pipe or pliers to circuit in my house. I figure if they made enough money in 2000 to run an ad in 2001 and they’re still in business (with the same phone number = reliable), then it’s worth giving them a call. It shortens the list considerably and helps me know that the people I am talking to are in it for the long haul. I’ve found some really great contractors that way

Every phone book since then has gone to doorstop use, building small bookshelves, kindling, or recycle. I never thought to cancel them. I’ll do it now.