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Phone books good as cash

Twenty-nine Hillsborough schools compete to win cash by helping to heap up 225 tons of old phone books for recycling.


© St. Petersburg Times, published November 15, 2000

TAMPA -- Hopes are stacking up at area schools that have everything to do with books, but nothing to do with reading.

Twenty-nine schools in Hillsborough County are taking part in the county's annual old phone book recycling program. The goal: recycle 105,882 books, or 225 tons.

Schools earn cash for every pound collected over 2 tons, with the top schools reaping bonus money and a shopping spree. All get the satisfaction of knowing they helped the environment.

The program began Nov. 6 and continues through Jan. 15. Each school gets a week to collect as many books as possible from family, friends and local businesses.

Last year, participants gathered 90,866 books for a total of 193 tons. That translated to 3,089 trees saved from chain saws, according to the county's calculations.

Bay Crest Elementary School in Town 'N Country took the top prize with 13,539 books, or 28.8 tons. It marked the school's second win in a row. They're hoping for a third.

"The kids love it," said assistant principal Jackie Scaglione. "They know we're in a big competition."

Winning makes a difference. Last year, the school put its $3,639 in prize money toward a part-time technology support person to help with classroom computers. The year before, the school bought network software.

To spread the word, the school sent fliers home with students, posted notices at the local grocery store and ran community service announcements in newspapers and on radio. Every student, preschool-Grade 5, brought in a set of yellow and white pages, Scaglione said.

The bulk of the books came from nearby office buildings and hotels. Parents Glen Farris and James Ramey volunteered to pick them up.

Farris estimates he hauled about 7,000 books in 30 loads. It was grueling, but satisfying, work, he said. Over the course of three weeks, he lost 10 pounds.

"It's good for the environment, it's good for the soul," he said.

The Recycling Task Force of Hillsborough County and Verizon Communications are sponsoring the program. Last year, the phone company awarded a total of $14,538.

The task force invites all public and private schools in the county to apply. Each must submit a plan for collecting books, and only those that show they can get at least 2 tons are chosen.

This year, the task force selected 29 of the approximately 37 schools that applied.

In all, the recycling program collects about 12 percent of all the books distributed countywide, said Michael Murphy, task force director. It particularly helps out in Tampa, where people can't put phone books in curbside recycling bins.

Verizon printed 770,127 sets of books for the Tampa area, about one-quarter of which were set aside for people who move here over the next year. About 581,000 sets went out to homes and businesses in October.

As a general rule, Verizon gives one set to every residential customer and two sets to every business. In reality, however, many get more.

Company officials couldn't say how many books go to waste every year, but stressed that any leftovers get recycled. Books are printed on 40 percent recycled paper.

"Our aim is to be as environmentally friendly as possible, but we do consider our directory a valuable resource to residents," said Ben Prescott, a spokesman for Verizon directories.

To reduce the number of leftovers, Verizon looks at previous years' use and the population. Verizon also uses printers that allow the company to reprint directories at certain times during the year, if needed.

Phone books make up about one-half of 1 percent of the Tampa area's trash, Murphy said. That's pretty small, he said, given that a set of books has about 3,100 pages.

But don't tell that to the 849 students at Bay Crest. To them, winning is all about making mountains.

At a glance

To order a phone book or to have to excess directories picked up, call (800) 888-8448.

- Susan Thurston can be reached at (813) 226-3463 or

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