What to Know About Recycling Books

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on January 05, 2023

Paper is often easy to recycle. But there are some types of paper that can’t be recycled. About 23% of trash comes from paper. When paper gets recycled, it’s reused to create new paper products. Recycling helps prevent new trees from being cut down, protecting natural resources. 

Paper is one of the most recycled materials in the U.S. It’s important to know how to recycle paper, including whether your nearest recycling center takes certain types of paper. Paperback and hardback books need to be recycled differently because of the difference in covers.

The commitment to buying a book typically means that book will be in your home for quite some time. But it might be time to say goodbye when that book becomes worn and past your ability to read it.

Are Books Bad for the Environment? 

A study from Sweden found that one 360-page hardback book emits 1.2 kgCO2eq during its life cycle. This carbon footprint comes mainly from the pulp and paper production process. The heat production and bleaching process increase the carbon footprint. Another portion of this footprint comes from the shipping process and buying processes. Transportation to get the book to the store and for the customer to buy the book factors into the overall carbon footprint. 

The environmental impact is lower if a book uses recycled paper instead of new “virgin” paper. Recycled papers reduce the need for wood and impact deforestation issues. 

Buying second-hand is a great way to reduce your book’s environmental impact. The more you read one book, the lower its carbon footprint. You can find secondhand books at yard sales, thrift shops, and sometimes at library book sales. 

What is recycling? Recycling is a massive benefit to the environment and local communities. Instead of ending up in the landfill, materials get collected and processed to become new products. Recycling gives new life to old materials. 

Not creating waste is the most effective, environmentally friendly strategy to combat climate change. Since that’s nearly impossible, recycling is relatively effective when done correctly. Reusing materials helps protect natural resources and the environment and reduces costs.

Books that get thrown away make up about 640,000 tons of waste. About 320 million books end up in landfill instead of being recycled. If just 10% of the books going to the landfill ended up getting recycled, that would save 32 million books from going to waste.

How to get rid of old books. Recycling books is more than just tearing out the pages and breaking down the book pulp for reuse for new books. You can also donate them to schools, charities, and nonprofits. This gives someone else a chance to read the book.

Can You Recycle Books? 

Recycling books depends on the book type and if your community has a recycling program. Unlike paper, books have specific criteria to meet before they get recycled. Check with your local collector to see if they accept paperback or hardcover books.

In some cases, they may only take paperback ones. Your local program should tell you if you need to remove the spines and covers before recycling. An adhesive in the binding makes it more challenging to break down and recycle. 

Giving your book a second life through donation is another way to recycle your book. You should donate if your book is still readable and in decent condition. If the book is essentially unusable, you can take it to the nearest recycling center to be broken down and reused. 

Most paperbacks are recyclable in their current state. But hardcover books need special treatment before getting recycled. You’ll need to tear off the cover and binding from the book. This leaves the paper pages left over to be recycled.

It’s best to leave recycling books as the last option. Reusing or donating your books is the preferred way to get rid of books you no longer want.

How to Recycle Books

Recycling books can be challenging if your community doesn’t offer a program that accepts books. 

The recyclability of books isn’t simple for everyone. You’ll need an accepting municipality that will take your book. The process of recycling books typically involves de-casing the book cover and binding and grinding or shredding the pages. 

The fiber from the book is often reused in products like: 

  • Tissue
  • Cardboard
  • Linerboard
  • Boxboard
  • Insulation

There are many alternatives to getting rid of your old books. Consider these options before sending your books off to the recycling center for processing.

Selling your books. If you have some books in good condition that you want to make some money off of, try selling them. There’s a large market for used textbooks. You can sell them on sites like Amazon, BookByte, and Cash4Books. 

Donating your books. As stated above, there are many places to donate your used books. The Salvation Army can help get your books into the hands of people that need them. 

Books to Prisoners is a program that gets books into the hands of inmates. The program helps you ship your books to incarcerated people who want to read. 

Make a little free library. Building a book box in your neighborhood is an excellent way for people to grab and trade out their books. You can add an old book with a little note to the little library. Then you can take a new-to-you book to read later. 

Reuse your books. Finding new purposes for old books in your home is an environmentally friendly option for getting rid of your books. There are many fun, crafty ways to use your books and textbooks as decorations.

Create a book trade. Borrowing books from friends and neighbors is another way to reduce the carbon footprint of a book. If you have a specific book you’ve wanted to read, reach out to your network to see if there’s one available for you to borrow.

Find websites online. There are companies online where you can mail your old textbook. The company will recycle your textbook for you and keep it from the landfill. Each book gets reused or broken down into other paper products.

Show Sources

Brandeis University: “Choosing the Correct Bin.”
CIRAIG: “What is the most eco-friendly option for reading a book?”
City of Portland: “Recycling.”
The County of Santa Barbara: “Paperback Books Recycling.”
EPA: “Frequent Questions on Recycling,” “How Do I Recycle?: Common Recyclables.”
National Wildlife Federation: “A Research Study on Textbook Recycling in America.”
Paper & Packaging: “Can You Recycle This? What to Do with Paper, Cardboard & More.” “How Do I Recycle Old Books.”
University of the People: “What To Do With Old Textbooks.”

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