What To Do With Old Books To Treat Yo’ Shelf SustainablyImage by Sustainable Jungle#whattodowitholdbooks #howtodisposeofoldbooks #bookrecycling #bookrecyclingideas #upcyclebooks #whattodowitholdpaperbackbooks #sustainablejungle
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What To Do With Old Books To Treat Yo’ Shelf Sustainably

Who doesn’t have an old textbook lying around, a childhood favorite you’re clinging to, or worse—a novel you swore you’d get to someday?

We get it. Books are hard to let go of, but when it’s finally time to refresh your collection what to do with old books.

Trash ‘em? Burn ‘em? Dump ‘em?

No way!

About 640,000 tons of books are sent to landfill each year. That’s roughly 320 million books! 

Landfills have enough reading material for the next several epochs—and if you’re not yet convinenced, flip to the bottom for more bummer book waste stats—so let’s help write a new chapter for all our pre-loved paperbacks.

1. Sell Used Books For Extra Cash

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Who could say “no” to a little extra spending money?

To spend on more books, of course.

Disposing of old books is easier now than ever, especially thanks to online second hand stores like eBay and Amazon.

Although they require a little effort on your part to individually list (or bundle by series) and ship, they have the advantage of reaching a massive buyer base.

Book Scouter is a fantastic place to sell books of all shapes and subjects. Search for your book using its ISBN for a list of pricing offers, mail in every book they’ll accept, and get paid.

Barnes & Noble and Chegg are specrically designed to help you sell old textbooks, and secondhand chain bookstores like Half Price Books buyback books of all genres.

Offline, consider selling used books at a garage sale or to a local, independent used bookstore. Contact stores ahead of time to find out what they accept and what payment they offer.

2. Donate Used Books

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There are SO MANY books in the world, that you’re porbably not going to find a buyer for each and every one—but that doesn’t necessarily mean the books are unwanted.

One of the best options for how to get rid of old books is to pass the joy of reading along to someone else.

Donate used books to your local thrift store or charity shop (two birds if you were wondering what to do with your old clothes, too!)

Libraries, schools, daycare centers, and after school programs likewise often accept old children’s books, magazines, and adult books you can’t sell. Always call ahead to make sure your donation is needed.

If you’ve exhausted your local reading recycling options, check out these causes:

  • Second Bind distributes donated books from Canada to hospitals, libraries, and charities around the world.
  • The Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation’s Share-A-Book program provides books to Indigenous, refugee, and marginalized communities.
  • Operation Paperback supports military families at home and abroad.
  • Prison Book Program provides incarcerated folks with reading materials.
  • Libraries Without Borders promotes literacy in underprivileged communities around the globe.

3. Trade-In Old Books For New-To-You reading

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Just because you want to learn how to dispose of old books doesn’t mean you can’t replace them right away.

Move out the old and bring in the new with some of the following book trade-in options.

Little Free Libraries

Organizations like Little Free Library make trading within your community simple and accessible. Little Free Library is a network of over 100,000 free book-sharing boxes scattered in neighborhoods around the world.

Unlike a traditional library, there is no ledger or check-out process. Instead, each Little Free Library operates on an honor system.

Anyone may take a book, share a book, or both!

Sharing an old book is not required in order to take one—simply come back to your neighborhood location when you have a book to share.

Find your nearest Little Free Library (or start your own) here.

Book Swaps

Connect with book-loving communities virtually or in person.

Facebook hosts countless groups dedicated to exchanging used books locally and the app SwappyBooks allows users to organize trades with people nearby.

On a global scale, try Paperback Swap to trade with readers worldwide. Or, send an old book on an adventure with BookCrossing, which allows users to track their donated book’s physical journey from reader to reader with a unique code.

If you prefer the feel of a real book over an e-book, take your book swap from the virtual to the tangible.

Get a group of friends or just local community members together and host a book swap party.

This is an opportunity to let your imagination run wild: Go all out with literature-themed invitations, snacks, decorations, or party games.

Invite each guest to bring a mystery book of their choice to give away “white elephant” style. No one will know what book they’ve chosen until the end of the party.

4. Upcycle Old Books Into Something New

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Keeping books in their original form is one way to keep the story going—but re-writing the story is also an option.

Much like repurposing old jeans or old shoes, let your creativity shine and upcycle old books into something entirely new, such as:

  • Traditional wrapping paper is not recyclable, so repurpose old books into a zero waste gift wrapping solution for small boxes.
  • Remove the spine of a favorite read to use as a bookmark
  • Create celestial decor by folding origami stars.
  • Hollow out the center leaving a secret compartment to store keys, a prized possession, or even your favorite plant.
  • Fold paper flowers to make a statement at a wedding, shower, or party.
  • Design a vintage-inspired gallery wall or headboard, and restyle it for every season.
  • Use individual pages as unique canvases for painting or drawing.
  • Decoupage pages onto upcycled furniture to create a custom piece. Imagine a music stand decorated with old sheet music, or a bookshelf covered with pages from classic novels.
  • Fold pages into adorable envelopes and slip your holiday cards or eco-friendly wedding invitations inside.
  • Paper punches come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Punch your pages into compostable confetti.
  • Add string to make a book page bunting or garland.

5. Compost Old Books

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What should you do if your old books are unusable or damaged beyond repair or reuse?

Can you compost old books?

Like most plain paper, pages of old paperback books and old hardcover books can be composted right at home. 

In fact, as a carbon-rich material, paper is a beneficial addition to any outdoor or indoor compost bin. Paper absorbs excess moisture and crumpled pages increase the necessary aeration in the composting process.

Carefully remove any non-compostable parts that are not paper or cardboard, including:

  • Glossy, metallic, or plastic-coated covers or hardcover jackets
  • Plastic or metal spines from spiral-bound notebooks
  • Built-in bookmarks made of elastic or ribbon
  • Scrapbook or sketchbook pages with lots of glue, stickers, oil paint, or tape

To play it safe, stick with just pages printed with black ink and be sure to shred or tear into tiny pieces to speed up the decomposition process. If you toss in a whole crumpled page, it likely won’t break down as quick as your compost’s greens.

6. Recycle Old Books

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Not a composter? Can you recycle old books then?

In most places, you can recycle paperback books with your regular paper recycling, though just to be safe, you should remove the cover and binding (especially if it includes staples) in case your local recycling center isn’t equipped to deal with the deconstruction process.

But can you recycle hardcover books?

Again, yes, but they require a little more prep to unbind hardcover books and get them recycle-ready. 

Essentially, you’ll want to remove anything that’s not paper, including cloth, string, or glue used in the bindnig and cloth, plastic, or leather in the cover.

Unfortunately, some places do not accept books for recycling at all.

Book disposal guidelines vary by location, so always check your local policies before recycling.

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Why Learn How To Dispose Of Old Books?

Landfills are a major source of pollution.

Aside from their less than appealing aesthetics and smell, landfills produce toxins, leachate, and greenhouse gases, all of which negatively impact the quality of our air, soil, and water.

Due to lack of oxygen, even waste that typically decomposes quickly can take decades. 

Recycling paper products like old books saves valuable landfill space and uses less energy than making non-recycled paper.

As big as the world seems, it’s important to remember that resources and physical space on Earth are finite.

According to the University of Michigan, one tree grown for paper production generates over 8,000 sheets of paper. Considering an average textbook is about 700 pages, that amounts to nearly 30 million trees razed annually.

And while the rapid growth in popularity e-books and audiobooks has somewhat displaced the number of physical books being printed in recent years, we also know that the sustainable technology industry lags behind and is host to its own serious environmental and ethical concerns.

Recycling or otherwise repurposing old books is an easy way to reduce our personal impact on the planet.

Final Thoughts On What To Do With Old Books

Striving towards more sustainable living encourages us to consume less stuff more thoughtfully.

That doesn’t mean we can’t buy, own, and enjoy the things that we want.

It means that we should be aware of the impact those things have on the planet—even things as seemingly small and benign as books.

By recycling, donating, or repurposing old or unwanted books, we can keep them out of landfills for as long as possible, while still clearing some space on your bookshelf for the latest books on sustainability.

Now please, pass this article along to your book club or any bibliophile in your life—maybe by writing down the URL and slipping it inside an old hardcover book you plan to gift them!

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What To Do With Old Books To Treat Yo’ Shelf Sustainably Image by Sustainable Jungle #whattodowitholdbooks #howtodisposeofoldbooks #bookrecycling #bookrecyclingideas #upcyclebooks #whattodowitholdpaperbackbooks #sustainablejungle
What To Do With Old Books To Treat Yo’ Shelf Sustainably Image by Sustainable Jungle #whattodowitholdbooks #howtodisposeofoldbooks #bookrecycling #bookrecyclingideas #upcyclebooks #whattodowitholdpaperbackbooks #sustainablejungle

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