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17 Creative Things to Do with Phone Books

Go beyond recycling, and help reduce our paper use.


Is it just my imagination, or are they sending out updated editions of the phone book and Yellow Pages a lot more often than they used to?

When I was growing up, it seemed like we had the same phone book the whole time. I remember it, because my Uncle George — who fancied himself the Human Hulk — said he knew a trick whereby he could tear an entire phone book in half with his bare hands. It didn't quite work out that way, although he did thoroughly mangle the A-G listings.

 wallking fingers yellow pages phone book logo

And the Yellow Pages; I don't ever remember getting an updated version. Our copy was sort of our family Bible, not only a source of information but a record of our lives. Especially the page with the phone listing for our family doctor, which was crammed with frantically written margin notes in my mom's handwriting, instructions from the good doctor's office for treating her two accident-prone young sons. Things like: "Induce vomiting immediately!", "Not contagious...as far as the doctor knows," and (multiple entries) "Should pass in his stool within 48-hours."

Okay, so maybe it is just my imagination, but certainly the phone company is distributing a heck of a lot more phone books than they need to in this era when so many of us retrieve the phone numbers we need on the Internet instead. More than half a BILLION phone books are printed and distributed every year in the U.S., which is nearly two books for every American. That consumes about 19 million trees. Here's how to help curb this waste of paper and make the best use of outdated phone books you have on hand:

Related: 11 Ways to Save Trees ... Without Planting One

Opt Out: Go to yellowpagesgoesgreen.org and register to be taken off the distribution list for white and yellow page phone books.

Recycle: Less than 10% of all phone books printed are recycled, even though they can be recycled into everything from ceiling tiles to cereal boxes. Go to earth911.com to find your nearest phone book recycling center.

Repurpose: As they say, "One man's trash is a Green Cheapskate's treasure." Here are some creative reuses for old phone books and Yellow Pages.

  • Child Booster Seats: Cover them in fabric remnants.
  • Press Autumn Leaves/Plants: Better yet, have the kids sit on them at the same time.
  • Flip Books: Here's a fun art project!
  • Window Wipes: Perfect for cleaning windows with a simple mixture of vinegar and water.
  • Phone Book Step Aerobics: Duct tape them together to use in stair-stepping exercises.
  • Fire Starters: Perfect for the fireplace, grill or woodstove.
  • Garden Mulch: Shred 'em (a few pages at a time, Uncle George): they're great biodegradable weed blockers.
  • Origami: Recreate the Tale of 10,000 Yellow Swans with a single book of Yellow Pages!
  • Pencil/Pen Holder: Here's a nifty craft project idea.
  • Papier Mâché: It's not just for the Jr. High science fairs anymore.
  • Packaging Filler: Balled up or shredded.
  • Wax Paper Substitute: Use to separate baked goods and items in the freezer.
  • Paper Dresses: Careful, or his fingers may just do the walking through your Yellow Pages.
  • Make Your Voice Heard: Sign a petition to the Yellow Pages Association insisting that they move to an "on-demand system" of distributing directories (i.e., you only get one if you ask for one).



Jeff Yeager is the author of:
* The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches: A Practical (and Fun) Guide to Enjoying Life More by Spending Less, and
* The Cheapskate Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of Americans Living Happily Below Their Means
* Find more of Jeff at www.UltimateCheapskate.com, Twitter and Facebook

Originally published May 26, 2009

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Being a Green Cheapskate isn't just about saving money; it's about living lighter on the Earth and sharing more with those in need. From frugal tricks to thrifty planning, cheap is cool and ultra-green. read more.
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