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End phone book litter

FAIRBANKS — I had a great idea. I wanted to start a new pizza delivery business in Fairbanks, but couldn’t figure out a way to effectively “get the word out.” Then it hit me. Why not print up thousands of promotional pizza boxes, with my business information and an attached discount-coupon printed on them? I could then drive up and down our community’s roadways, throwing these boxes into everyone’s driveways, alongside roads, and — for good measure — I could dump a whole load on the ground wherever I found a cluster of community mail boxes.

What do you mean I can’t do that? What do you mean that such irresponsible action would be considered “littering”?

 Oh, my naïve friends, you obviously haven’t lived here very long. You see, such conduct is perfectly acceptable here, as evidenced by the recent “distribution” of phone books, commonly occurring two to three weeks after our community comes together to complete our annual spring “Clean Up Day” activities.

But what about our Alaska Statutes 46.06.080, which clearly prohibits a person from “throwing, dropping, depositing, discarding, or otherwise disposing of litter from a vehicle or otherwise, on public or private property,” you say? Well, I called the Alaska State Troopers to ask them the same question after viewing more than 20 phone books that had been tossed from a moving vehicle into every dirt and gravel driveway along my neighborhood off Farmers Loop. I received a very non-committal and fuzzy answer about a potential “gray area” involving phone books, and the trooper who I spoke with didn’t seem overly enthusiastic about opening a litter case.

Do I blame the troopers? Well, not really. Having worked in local law enforcement for 20 years, I have a pretty good sense of how understaffed they are in trying to handle all of the missions and issues that are placed upon them. If this was a simple, isolated littering case, I wouldn’t even think of contacting troopers. However, that’s not what we’re talking about here. Rather, we are dealing with a corporate-sponsored, full-on blitz of purposeful littering, all done in a concerted effort to sell advertising. This is done under the guise of providing a public service through the distribution of these “local” directories, which are produced by a company in Salt Lake City, Utah. When I contacted this company — “The Local Pages” — to complain, the supervisor I spoke to actually stated “Well, we have to try and get these books out somehow.”

I’m sorry, but I beg to differ. The company’s desire to generate revenue (charged to advertisers based upon number of books delivered) by “somehow reaching me” does not give it an excuse to litter my personal property and surrounding neighborhood. For what it’s worth, here are a few suggestions I’d like to offer:

For the phone book companies:

• Once they’ve produced their critically important “local directory” by simply reprinting a small chunk of the Internet, they can follow the same rules required of all other responsible businesses and advertisers. Get a bulk-mail permit, and send out postcards to all residents advising that their new directory awaits. Interested parties can respond for a delivery, or they can be directed to an authorized distribution site for pickup.

For advertisers:

• They should be aware that there are many folks who strongly disapprove of this distribution method. I have talked to literally dozens of people in the past week who share these views, and who share my disappointment that local advertisers are subsidizing this yearly littering of our community.

For the state, including the troopers, the attorney general’s office and our local legislators:  

• This issue can be handled very simply, with minimal effort and in such a way as to keep the majority of complaints off local troopers’ desks. I hope that one of our local legislators will consider sponsoring a bill to formally amend A.S. 46.06.080, clearly articulating that:

A. Any phone book not placed in an area specifically designated for distribution shall be considered “litter.”

B. Any company involved in the distribution of phone directories shall designate a specific corporate contact person who shall be personally responsible for any claims involving improper distribution within a specified geographic area, including payment of any levied fines.

Once the law is clarified as above, our state’s attorney general should send written notice to all phone book companies that have distributed in Alaska in the past, advising that any future distribution that violates state littering laws shall result in a $1,000 fine for each (individual book) occurrence.

Any “carpet-bombing” of phone directories could then be followed a simple notice being issued from the Alaska State Troopers public information office asking anyone who had an unwanted directory dumped in their driveway to take a quick smart-phone photo of the book as it lay and email it with their name and address to a designated trooper contact. The coordinator can then amasses the list, contact the involved company, determine who is responsible for distribution in the given area and levy the aggregate fine accordingly.

Now who’s ready for a pizza?

Dan Hoffman is the former chief of police for the city of Fairbanks.

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