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Books: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle Redefined

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What do you do with that bestseller once you've turned the last page? Get rid of your books an eco-friendly way.
Originally Published: 08/12/10

Reading a good book is surely one of life's greatest pleasures, but books seem to have a way of piling up at home. If you're not the type to re-read your collection, you can keep your bookshelf pared down to a handful of your favorite volumes without letting the books end up in the landfill.

But wait! When it comes to books, the answer isn't necessarily curbside recycling; unfortunately, the adhesive used in the bookbinding process prevents many books from being recyclable. Since the traditional three Rs might not be quite so obvious, we've specified how to make them work for books — so now you can keep your book collection in check in an environmentally responsible manner.


There are ways to be more environmentally responsible about the books you buy, so you can lessen your impact before a book even hits your shelf — and there's good reason to. According to Green Press Initiative, roughly 30 million trees are used each year to make the books sold in the United States.

Seek out earth-friendly products. Check a book's cover, inside flaps, or copyright page for information like whether it's been printed with soy ink, made from recycled paper, or made with FSC-certified paper. You could also consider buying books from publishers that have adopted strong environmental policies, or take a hint from reading lists like one provided by Rainforest Action Network, which lists specific titles that have been printed on recycled paper, or see if your favorite author routinely requests that her books be printed on recycled paper.

Look into digital. Whether you invest in a Kindle or an iPad, or buy digital books to read on your SmartPhone, sticking to e-reading may save you money over time — digital books often cost less than their paper counterparts — and may conserve resources that printed books use in great quantity, like trees.

Buy or borrow used. Extend the life of a book by buying used, or circulate favorite volumes amongst friends and families. By doing so, you'll help others keep their own bookshelf under control.


Perhaps the best way to extend a book's life is to pass it along to others. Luckily, there are many ways to do so right now.

Sell. Websites like,, and are all popular options for selling used books; or you could resell to used bookstores. To get the most for your money, try, which helps you find who will pay the most.

Swap or share. There are a number of fun websites and services specifically for swapping or sharing books. With BookCrossing, you can track the life of your book and see who is reading it. You can also swap books with others with through BookSwap or BookMooch.

Donate. Consider giving books to a local library, charity, senior center, shelter, or school. One option is Better World Books, which collects used books and resells them to raise money for literacy programs worldwide.

Repurpose by de- and re-constructing. Books can be great fodder for fun sprojects or home decor. You might frame the prettiest pages from illustrated books or children's picture books and use them as wall art, or cut out images to make greeting cards. You could use books to make everything from purses, to lamps, to a safe for hiding small treasures. We've even seen one intrepid designer use castoff books to create a bar.


Yes, we know we already said that books can be difficult to recycle because of the adhesive used to bind them — but it's not impossible. Search Earth911 for local recycling centers that will accept your books. Although most only accept books from publishers and bookstores — not consumers — there are a few companies, like Book Destruction, that grind up books and use the pulp to make other products.

What ways can you think of to keep books off the shelf and out of the landfill? Share them in the comments below.

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About the Author
Jessica Harlan
Jessica Harlan

I love finding new ways to green my family's life as painlessly as possible, and sharing those ideas with folks who want to do the same.

  • Elaine F. 4 years ago
    I always try to donate old unwanted books.
  • 5 years ago
    We use the library for reading and donations, exchange & donate books on BookMooch, share with friends, and repurpose childrens books for art projects. We do this primarily if a book is damaged, but its art can be used for something fun. It can also work with regular books that may have been damaged in some way as gift wrap or packaging.
  • 5 years ago
    Use your local library. Find out what it has to offer, from ebooks and online databases that save you money to the newest bestsellers in books and music.
  • 5 years ago
    Donated clean & still readable books are often the main fundraiser for Library Friends' organizations so be sure to check with your local library when weeding your home or office book collection. Shop at these library sales for more recycled books to read & collect! These auxilliary funds are badly needed by libraries in these days of reduced funds for local public services. The largest amount of support for Public libraries comes from local city & county funds.
    Also, I belong to an Altered Art group that uses books as the platform for mixed media & collage art.
  • 5 years ago
    I donate my books to the library. They can use them in the library or sell to obtain other materials they're in need of.
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