Spring Cleaning in NYC

Posted on 09. Apr, 2010 by in Business & Policy

According to a Nielsen report three quarters of Americans had Internet access at home since 2004.  Why then are our streets littered with phone books every spring?  This especially resonates today as my ipad is charging in the other room.

It’s time to rethink everything.  When we talk about sustainability and revel in innovation let’s not forget about the small things.

Think of the potential resources and energy saved by not publishing an obsolete source of data that few people use.

Perhaps phone books could be delivered through the post office and those who opt in via a postcard delivered to their residence would receive a book with their mail.  That way my grandfather in rural Pennsylvania still gets his phone book, and we could re-invent two dying institutions.

To get a sense of the potential environmental impact of these books, let’s say that all the books were made of 100% virgin paper (which they’re not), then:

  • Given 540 million books are distributed each year (1), if each book weighed about 2 pounds on average, then that would be a little over 1 billion pounds worth of books. (http://www.paperlesspetition.org/moreinfo.php)
  • If each pound of paper requires 2 pounds worth of trees, that equals 2 billion pounds of trees.
  • If an average 75 foot tall, 1 foot in diameter pine tree weighs 2,000 pounds (and thus creates 1,000 pounds of paper), then that’s a million average pine trees that would be cut down each year in order to make yellow pages books.

So lets review the equation:

1,000,000,000 lbs. worth of books/1,000 lbs of paper per average tree = 1,000,000 trees

Now lets take a look at energy costs if the books were made of 100% recycled paper:

  • Using 100% recycled paper, it takes about 22 million BTU’s to make 1 ton of post-consumer paper. (https://mail.google.com/mail/?ui=2&view=bsp&ver=1qygpcgurkovy)
  • If there are a little over 1 billion pounds worth of books (540 million books at an average 2 pounds each) distributed each year, that would equate to about 500,000 tons per year (1 billion pounds/2,000 pounds per ton).
  • 22,000,000 BTUs per ton at 500,000 tons = 1.1 E13 BTUs
  • To put that number into perspective, consider that 1 watt equals 3.41 BTUs, 1.1 E13 BTUs is roughly 3.23 E12 watts.
  • Considering the average incandescent light bulb is 60 watts, the energy it takes to make one year’s books using 100% recycled paper is the same as powering 5.38 E10 light bulbs!

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2 Responses to “Spring Cleaning in NYC”

  1. John L

    26. May, 2010

    Interesting, overlooked topic + informative numbers = great article! The fact I had forgotten about the very existence of phone books just goes to prove how unnecessary they are today. This is an aging practice that needs to be reevaluated by any and all cities.

  2. Jeffrey S.

    26. May, 2010

    Other than as an occasional door stop, i haven’t used, or even touched, a phone book in years. with everything available on the internet and the power of computer and smartphones these days, it seems that this should be an obsolete medium by now.

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