Do you have a stockpile of old textbooks, magazines, and phone books taking up dust on your bookshelf or on your coffee table? Well, we all have some used books we find either hard to part with or don’t want to consign to the trash. If some of those old books have become past their use-by date, outdated, and won’t find a good home elsewhere, you might find yourself asking, can you recycle old books? The answer is yes, you can.
This article will explore all you need to know about ways to recycle books and show you how you can declutter those piles of old books.
Books typically come in different weights and sizes of coated and uncoated paper stocks. For front and back book covers, manufacturers typically use thicker and weightier stock of paper.
For hardcover books, manufacturers use stronger cardboard stock paper alongside other non-paper components. For paperback books, manufacturers use thinner paper stock. Books, magazines, catalogs, and phone books typically fall under the mixed paper category, which curbside recycling programs accept.
Some common types of paper manufacturers use in making books include: woodfree uncoated paper, machine-finished coated paper (for paperback books), and coated fine paper used in offset printing.
Do you know that around 320 million books get dumped in landfills every year? According to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports, we recover only about 33.3 percent of books, while a large percentage contributes roughly 0.4% of total solid waste in landfills1.
However, EPA estimates that with a ton of paper recycled, we can save 17 trees, 3.3 cubic yards of landfill space, 6000 kilowatts of energy, and a massive 7000 gallons of water.
Like we mentioned earlier, curbside recycling programs typically accept recycled books like paperback books, magazines, and phone books made of mixed paper.
You can easily put paperback books in the recycling bin. To recycle paperback books, you don’t need to remove anything, including the binding. For magazines, you can also put them in the recycle bin as well.
Your hardcover books, like college textbooks or coffee table books, might not be so easy to recycle. This is because the back cover of a hardcover book may contain other non-paper components which you cannot usually recycle with the rest of your household recycling.
You could trash the back cover and recycle the inner pages to recycle hardcover books. If your books or magazines come in plastic wrapping, you will need to take them off before dropping them off at a book recycling center, as this can corrupt the entire recycling process.
If your books are wet or brown, you will have to put them in the trash as you cannot recycle them via a curbside recycling program.
Ensure you check with your local recycling center to find out if they have a book recycling program and know which types of books are acceptable.
Once these books get accepted through curbside recycling centers, processing facilities recycle them into other paper products like coffee filters and phone books.
Here’s what happens when you drop off your books for paper recycling;
If your used books are in good condition, there are several ways you can give your books a second life. Here are some great ideas you can try out:
One great way to reuse your old books is to sell them. You can get paid to sell books and transfer valuable knowledge to someone who needs it. Books are precious, after all, and if they can provide someone else some pleasure, you can avoid them becoming an egg carton.
A few online platforms like Craigslist accept used books. You can also sell them on the Facebook marketplace. Make sure your books are in good condition before putting them up for sale. The better the condition of your books, the more likely you are to get a willing buyer.
If you're a student, consider selling used college textbooks so students in the next year can reuse them.
What’s more fulfilling than giving out your old books to people and communities who need them? Donating books to people and local communities is another great way to reuse your old books. Here are a few options on where you can donate your old books:
Libraries are usually quiet spots for people within a local community to access knowledge, enhance literacy and quietly dig into their favorite books. You can donate a few books to a local library holding book sales in your community.
There are also little free libraries in some local communities that encourage dropping free books that anyone within the community can access. You can drop off your old books at a local little free library within your community. This is a fun way to encourage people to read and share knowledge.
Some doctors look for books to keep their patients occupied in their waiting rooms. This is especially useful to keep kids occupied while parents wait for a doctor’s appointment. So if you have old books like children’s books, you can drop them off at hospitals that need them.
If you have an old book, you think someone else might enjoy it, you can also find some more unexpected places to recycle your old books for someone else’s pleasure. For example, you could leave them in the waiting room of a train station or on a local coffee shop table for the next person to come along.
However, be mindful of waste for this to work, and it is probably best to be confident someone will pick it up rather than end up in the trash regardless of your good intent.
If you think your books could be useful in school, you can donate your books to local schools around you. You could also give your textbooks that are up to date to the next years' college students, which is a far better way of textbook recycling than having them end up mulched into something new.
Various charities accept book donations. Some of these include:
Goodwill has been serving many communities for over 115 years. Through selling donated books and other items, Goodwill has funded career training, childcare, and education, for those in need. You can check out their website to get more information on how to donate books.
This thrift store collects and sells book donations through their Salvation Army family stores and uses the proceeds to fund programs and initiatives. You can donate books to any Salvation Army thrift store. Ensure you check their site for the guidelines on book donations.
This organization supports book drives and collects used books from a network of thousands of colleges, textbook publishers, and other partnerships. They sell these old books online and use the proceeds to fund literacy initiatives worldwide. Better World Books is committed to reducing waste and has successfully converted over 250 million books from landfills. You can check out their site to find out more.
Books Through Bars is a non-profit organization that provides reading materials to prisoners in the mid-east United States. This organization collects books from different genres, including educational, entertainment, instructional, and so on. You can donate anything ranging from textbooks to magazines, picture books, and more. However, you will need to check their website for guidelines you need to follow before dropping your books.
Books for Africa is an organization that collects and ships donated books and reading materials to African countries. They collect book donations, computers, e-books, etc., often from other countries, and ship them to all 55 countries in Africa. They remain the largest shippers of donated literary materials and have done so since 1988. You can check out their website to see the guidelines required.
Or if you don't have any of these near you, just pop into your local charity shop and enquire if they accept books; most do.
Another way to reuse your books is to trade them. You can set up a book swap group or system at a bookstore or close to a local library.
You can also use your social media platforms to swap books with your friends or meet other students and readers within your community. This is a great way to recycle textbooks or even find something fascinating yourself.
Instead of throwing your books in the trash, you can find creative ways to repurpose your old books and give them new life. You can decorate your room using pictures from the pages of your book or use some of its pages to make a phone book.
You can also make envelopes, gift cards, gift tags from old pages, a table made from books, or any decorative work of art. You can use old hardback books as plant stands and interior decor items. You can search online for more creative ideas.
What’s better than receiving an interesting comic book or novel on your birthday? You can give away old books to family and friends on special occasions like birthdays or special family hangouts.
It is common to think of burning unwanted books. However, this is harmful to the environment. Burning your books can release harmful chemicals and toxins that seep into the soil, causing earth pollution. It can also cause air and sometimes water pollution.
Not only is burning your used books harmful to the environment, but it can also be harmful to human health. The smoke released can cause eye and nose irritation, headaches, rashes, and even severe conditions like asthma and heart-related diseases.
Getting rid of your old books doesn’t have to get tricky. Recycling books is a great way to give them a second life. Instead of throwing your books in the trash, which then ends up in landfills, causing pollution, you can try out the ideas for recycling books as listed above.
Laura S. Hickey and Kristy M. Jones (2012, November) A Research Study on Textbook Recycling in America
Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.