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Ridiculously Practical Ways to Recycle Books

According to Statista, 750.89 million printed books were sold in the US in 2020.

But what happens with all of them once they’re read?

640,000 tons of books end up in landfills every year, while the population of third world countries can’t get enough books for their education.

But, having your shelves collapse from the weight of all the volumes you’ve stacked because you can’t bear the idea of them ending up in landfills isn’t the answer either.

Ideally, we should transfer knowledge to others.

There’s no better way of doing that than by sharing our books.

Today, I’ll talk about everything you should know about how to donate, dispose of, and where to recycle books responsibly so we can preserve knowledge and not harm our environment.

How to Recycle Books?

I recently moved homes and was shocked to find out just how many books I’ve accumulated.

Let’s be honest.

I haven’t opened some of these for more than five years.

For example, I found that college students use five to seven textbooks per semester, which amounts to 40 to 60 textbooks during four years. I admit I had even more textbooks. And that’s not to mention all the novels I bought along the way.

So, if you’re in the same situation, here’s how to recycle books and do textbook recycling.

1. Donate Your Books

Donating your old books is one of the best solutions for getting rid of them, especially if you don’t want to deal with the hassle of reselling or finding book recyclers near you.

You can donate to your local community or an organization that gives books to underserved communities worldwide.

Donating locally is usually more convenient and will have a lower carbon footprint. However, by donating to other countries, you’ll be helping the education of struggling communities

More on places you can donate your old books to below.

How to Recycle Books

2. Trade Books

Another good option to prevent books from ending in a landfill is to trade them. You can do this by establishing a book swap in your neighborhood.

Consider places such as a store, a local coffee shop, or a community center.

This is a fun way to get to know your neighbors better, and it’s a way to give a textbook to someone who might urgently need it. Not to mention, you may find a new favorite book yourself.

If you’re not sure how to start a book swap, a good idea is to talk with the venue manager and share your ideas. Or, you can use social media to find other people from your area who might be interested.

Trading books may especially be helpful if you’re a student. You can create a book swap group with older and younger student generations, so they can share textbooks between themselves. 

You can also use a website called Paperback Swap. Their users make a list of books they want to share and request any book they want to read themselves. It’s just like borrowing a book from a friend, except you’ll have millions of them.

There are similar sites such as Book Crossing and BookMooch.

3. Sell Your Old Books

Nobody ever said no to some extra cash! 

One of the best ways to get this cash is to sell your old books. Book sales are a great way to get rid of old textbooks and get new books or magazines. 

There are many options where you can sell books you no longer need or want. 

Sell at a Local Independent Bookshop or Half Price Bookstore

Start by checking if there are any local secondhand bookshops in your area. You can do an online search or talk with friends and family and ask if they know of one. Then, you can contact the bookshop and ask what kind of books they accept and what’s the compensation.

You can talk with both secondhand bookshops and chains such as Half Price Books to see who’ll give you a better deal.

Some bookstores will give you cash, while others will offer store credit

It’s up to you which one you prefer.

One thing to keep in mind here is the condition of your book. In general, bookstores will only accept books in good condition, which makes sense because who wants a tattered book that’s falling apart?

 Some stores may ask you to bring your books for review. You can also ask about this when you first contact them.

Sell Your Old Books

Sell Books on Facebook Marketplace

The Facebook marketplace could be a better option than a bookstore, as you can list all kinds of books in different conditions. 

However, keep in mind that many users don’t want to pick up just a book or two, but groups of them. It may be better to sell books in groups of related titles or combine books in groups of similar genres, styles, and reading levels.

Sell on Amazon and eBay

Another good place to sell books is Amazon and eBay. Amazon has a really good secondhand platform. I especially like how easy it is to scan the ISBN number to find out the general selling price of a title on Amazon.

eBay is another good option for selling books, especially if you already have an account. However, keep in mind that on eBay you have to communicate with the buyers directly. You’re also in charge of shipping, so eBay takes slightly more work than Amazon. However, on eBay, you can set the price yourself.

4. Repurpose Books

Here’s something for all of you creative types — make something practical or decorative from an old book.

As always, Pinterest is your best friend when it comes to finding ways to repurpose old books.

For example, I found a cool idea on how to make a coffee table or a Christmas tree out of textbooks. You can also use pages of old phone books or books that are missing pages to make envelopes. You can use these to gift cards or cash.

I also used old books to make gift tags. If you have a book that can’t be donated or sold, you can make a gift tag and write a message with a dark marker.

Finally, use books as decoration.

For example, use pictures from children's books to decorate a kid’s bedroom.

Every time you repurpose a book, you prevent it from being sent to the landfill, so let your imagination run wild.

5. Recycle Books Through Curbside Recycling Programs

Books in poor condition, old books, or phone books can be recycled through curbside recycling programs. Just place them in the correct curbside recycling bin.

You might have to remove the cover from hardcover books to recycle your books because it contains thread, plastic, and glue.

In case your area doesn’t have a curbside recycling program, you can send the books to local recycling depots. 

6. Find a Professional Book Recycler 

Finally, you can recycle books by sending them to a professional book recycler. They will dispose of the book responsibly and in a professional manner that doesn’t harm the environment.

Where to Donate Old Books?

The condition of your books is the most important thing to keep in mind when donating. If a book is outdated or in poor condition, for example, missing pages, moldy, or has writing in it, it won’t be useful to anyone. 

Here’s a good rule to stick to when donating: if you wouldn’t give a book to a friend, it might not be the best choice for donation either.

There are many organizations that can help you donate books. Many of them give books to diverse groups, so you can feel good knowing you’ve helped someone and your books will be used for a good cause.

where to donate books

Here are some of the best options for book donations. 

1. Local Libraries

Libraries are the pillars of a community, and many of them accept book donations. However, keep in mind that some libraries get large amounts of irrelevant books, so they may be strict about what donations they accept.

Also, some libraries don’t have enough shelf space, so they only accept books that they know will circulate regularly. 

It’s best to contact your local library and ask them what books they need. Some libraries will also accept books they don’t necessarily need, such as magazines and other paper products, and will resell them and use the money to fund other programs.

2. Little Free Libraries

Little Free Library has book-sharing boxes that function on a book swap principle. There are over 32,000 little libraries across 50 states and other countries.

These are free-standing book cabinets, bigger than a mailbox. It doesn’t cost anything to take or donate a book to Little Free Library, and it’s a great way to help the community. 

You can go to their official website and find a location near you.

Keep in mind these are smaller boxes, so they won’t fit a large donation. But, if you have a few books you want to give away, it’s a good choice.

3. Better World Books

This organization collects and sells donated books to fund literacy initiatives worldwide.

So far, Better World Books has made over $33 million for literacy and education. Just go to their website, and you too can be a part of their work.

Do you know the best part?

This company has recycled close to 400 million books so far!

4. Books Through Bars

You can also donate books to inmates.

Many prisons or detention centers accept books, especially fiction. They have libraries that inmates can use.

You can use a Books Through Bars program, which gives books to people in prison throughout the US.

5. Charity Programs

Two of the most popular charities are Goodwill and Salvation Army. They also accept books. 

Goodwill has been around for more than 115 years. They help local communities by selling donated items and using the proceeds to fund career training, childcare, and education for people in need.

Goodwill has locations all over the US, so you can check their website for the one closest to you.

The Salvation Army also accepts books, even textbooks. The donations go to the Salvation Army Family Stores. Like Goodwill, they also use the funds they raise to fund programs that help people in need.

Goodwill and Salvation Army are always great choices for book donations, but you can find other charities and thrift stores in your area that conduct book drives as well.

6. Literacy Programs and Schools

When it comes to literacy programs, you can donate to local or global ones. 

If you want to donate locally, check out the Laundry Cares.

They sponsor a laundromat literacy program. Laundromats have reading corners, so people can read books while waiting for their clothes to be washed.

Or, you can donate globally. A good organization is Books for Africa.

They accept almost all kinds of books and ship them exclusively to Africa to help the education of people who live there. 

If you want to donate textbooks, you can consider the Bridge to Asia program, which helps teachers and students in China get a hold of textbook publishers that aren’t available in China.

If you want to donate to a school, start by talking with schools in your area and see if they need any specific books for their student bodies. 

Schools always want classic books on school reading lists. These get snapped up very fast, especially once the hold list gets long.

Apart from schools, you can donate books to local daycare centers. 

Where to Recycle Books?

The best way to recycle a book is to donate it. However, if you don’t want to deal with finding the place for donation, you don’t want to hassle with transport and shipping, or this simply isn’t an option for you, the next best thing is to find a book recycling center.

They will know what to do with old textbooks and how to recycle hardcover books.

You can also recycle a book by using curbside recycling and dumping it in the proper bin. But, if there’s no recycling service, or you don’t know where to recycle your textbooks, you can find a recycling center.

Simply go to Green Citizen’s Green Directory.

In the “Search for” bar, enter books. And, in the location, type in your address or zip code, and press search.

You’ll get a ton of results in a matter of seconds. You can even choose how far from you the recycling center is. You can select the distance from 5 to 100 miles.

green directory

A professional book recycler is one of the best book recycling options because they can make paper from old books. They tear up the books into scraps of paper and then place them into large processors.

Then they add water and blend the paper until there’s a smooth pulp. The pulp goes into mold and deckle and is placed in water. The deckle is placed screen-side over the mold and placed in water, then lifted up until the water is drained through the holes. 

Once most of the water has drained, a sponge is used to dab excess water. Once the paper is damp, it’s hung on a clothesline to dry. Once it’s dry, the paper is ready to be used.

Understanding The Book Recycling Process

While technically, books are made of paper, it’s not as easy to recycle them as you might think at first. 

Books, magazines, and even binders fall into the category of mixed paper. For your books to be recyclable, you should remove the mixed paper, such as binders. 

Can You Recycle Hardcover Books?

The answer is— it depends. 

Some places accept hardcover books, while many others don’t.

This is because the hardcover is more difficult to recycle, and many recycle centers don’t want to have glue inside the hardback spine mixed in with the paper. Hardback can be removed with a saw, which is time-consuming. Usually, for a hardcover book to be recyclable, you’ll have to remove the cover yourself

why recycle books

Can you recycle paperback books?

Yes!

This process is usually more straightforward compared to hardcover books. Still, there are some steps you should take. Check that the paper isn’t tan or brown and that pages aren’t splashed with liquid. If this is the case, throw the mixed paper in with household trash.

As for magazines, there’s no need to remove anything from inside the magazine. For example, if there are staples or cardstock ads, you can leave them. However, if the magazine came in a plastic bag, you should remove it and recycle the bag separately. 

Overall, each community is different, so for further information, check first if your local council has a book recycling program and what are the program’s requirements. The more you get informed about the recycling program, the less chance of a book being sent to the landfill because it can’t be recycled.

To help you understand book recycling better, here’s what a recycling process for paperbacks looks like:

  • Books and magazines are separate from office paper, cardboard, etc. They are considered mixed paper, as they can contain glue and plastic, especially on the cover and the spine.
  • Once books get to the recycling center and are separated from other paper, they are mixed with chemicals and water to get a pulp.
  • Ink and debris are removed from the pulp.
  • The pulp is put on huge screens to dry.
  • Once it's dried, it becomes new, lower-quality paper.

Why Should You Recycle Your Books?

Some book lovers find it too painful to get rid of their old books. Or, they’re able to give them a new life by donating them, but not recycling. However, some books can’t be donated.

Here’s why you should recycle them.

I mentioned that 640,000 tons of books are sent to landfills each year.

An average paperback weighs 4 pounds. This amounts to 320 million books destroyed instead of recycled. This is alarming, seeing as US landfills have only about 18 years before they are full. Books are significantly contributing to the landfills reaching their capacity.

Because space in landfills is extremely limited, books occasionally get burned, which is extremely bad for the environment. Books release toxins and chemicals when they are burned, which can cause air and water pollution. Moreover, burning produces dioxin, which is a highly toxic material. It can seep into the earth and groundwater and affect wildlife and people’s health

Not to forget, we make paper from trees. The more paper we use, the more trees are cut down, which has a huge impact on the environment.

On the other hand, the more paper we recycle, the fewer trees are cut down. 

If you’re still not convinced, consider these facts. It takes one tree to make 25 books.

However, one ton of recycled paper saves:

  • 3 cubic yards of landfill space
  • 380 gallons of oil
  • 17 trees
  • 4,000 kilowatts of energy
  • 7,000 gallons of water

Also, recycled books help other industries. For example, books provide the raw material for cardboard boxes, which helps the packaging industry.

FAQ

Can you recycle hardcover books?

Yes, you can recycle hardcover books, but it’s going to be more difficult than paperbacks. Check with your local recycling center before you put them in the recycle bin.

Should I throw away old books?

No, you shouldn’t throw away old books, as this creates waste. Sell them online or find a way to recycle them.

Who will buy my used books?

Many online places will buy used books, and even magazines, such as eBay, Abebooks, and Amazon.

How do you dispose of encyclopedias?

You can dispose of old encyclopedias by donating them to local schools or libraries. Check with the local charity if they accept donated encyclopedias or throw a garage sale.

Can you put books in paper recycling?

You can put books in paper recycling if the recycler accepts it. It really depends on the recycler. Contact your waste hauler or city to check.

What old books are worth money?

First editions, signed books, inscriptions with content, historic atlases are among old books that are worth money. To check the value of your book, go to Abebooks.

Final Thoughts

If you’re on the fence about recycling books, or the idea of getting rid of a few books makes your heart palpitate, then think about how recycled books can make other people happy. Moreover, you’re clearing space on your shelf for more books by recycling.

There are so many options you can go for instead of chucking your book into the wastebasket. The donating options are endless, and this is one of the best ways to recycle books.

You’re giving your old books new life and potentially helping someone by donating.

Or, you can also gift, repurpose, or sell your books. There’s no end to the ways in which you can recycle books. No matter which one you choose, you’ll be sending fewer books to landfills and making our planet less polluted.

Marina is passionate about sustainability and works to help ensure our planet stays as our home for a long time. She takes part in environmental conservation by recycling and not buying single-use plastic. When not writing, she can be found with her nose stuck in a book or trying out new baking recipes.


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