It looks like my daughters have inherited my bookworm gene. When my eldest was nine, she insisted on staying up until midnight to score a copy of the new Harry Potter book, and then stayed up even later reading it. And my youngest has become obsessed with comic books.
This means that my house is bursting with books, including stacks and stacks of books that my girls have outgrown. While books can sometimes be recycled, I still feel guilty doing that to books when I think about all of the energy and resources that went into making them, especially my own paperbacks that I read only once.
Like many people, I’ve tried to minimize my consumption of paper books, justifying that I’m not only saving on the paper, chemicals, and resources used to produce and transport books, but also reducing my own transportation by not driving to the bookstore every time I want something new to read.
Indeed, for avid readers, an e-book might be a slightly more sustainable option. It’s true that e-readers can contain potentially toxic chemicals, they require electricity to use, and they’re difficult to recycle — though Kindles can be sent to Amazon, on the company’s dime, for material reclamation. But, if you read a lot, your chance of reducing your carbon footprint through digital reading increases. According to one study, you have to read just over 100 books on an e-reader in order for it to be better for the planet than producing roughly the same amount of printed books.
In the interest of fueling my family’s passion for all types of books, I’ve started thinking of additional ways that we can minimize our literary carbon footprint. Here are some ideas.
1. Borrow books and e-books from the library
The beauty of libraries is that the books inside them get read again and again. If you’re someone who enjoys physically turning the page while reading, borrow books from your library so that all that paper doesn’t go to waste when you’re done. And, since buying e-books online can be expensive, consider borrowing e-books from your library too. These days, many libraries offer services like Overdrive, where their patrons can “borrow” books to read on their own devices.
2. Swap your finished books
If you’re the type of person who reads books just once (I know I am: Life’s too short!), consider passing finished books on to another person through a local or online book swap organization. For many swapping websites, you have to pay to ship the books, but you can receive them for free.
3. Frequent used bookstores in your community
I used to spend hours browsing used bookstores, and while they’re fewer and more far between these days, I still seek them out before shopping online. Going to a used bookstore supports small, independent businesses, which is important for maintaining community vibrancy and stimulating your local economy.
Buying used books extends their life and value. If you don’t have a used bookstore near you, consider buying from an online used bookstore or even Amazon’s used book options. Some of the used book vendors, which purchase book discards from schools and libraries among other sources, are even able to give back to those organizations.
4. Participate in Little Free Libraries
Whether you’ve got an armload of books to liberate, or you need something new to read, a quick walk around your neighborhood might solve your problem. Little Free Libraries, birdhouse-sized bookshelves, are popping up across the country. The idea is to take a book or leave a book, promoting literacy, reusing resources, and building community. Check out the worldwide map to see if you have one near your home, school, or office.
5. Find creative places to donate used books
Whether you have children’s books your kids have outgrown, or books that you’ll never read again, it’s not hard to find a place to donate them, rather than recycling them. Check local Goodwill branches, libraries, and even prisons to see if they accept book donations. Donate children’s books to a family shelter, a publicly funded preschool, or a children’s hospital. Send books to a collection point for an organization like Books for Africa, which ships containers of books to communities in developing nations. Donate cookbooks to a domestic violence shelter, a refugee organization, or any other organization dedicated to helping people reclaim the chance to live independently.