textbook-recycling.jpg Back when I was in college, buying new textbooks was one of my favorite things. It signaled the beginning of a new term, which got me energized about all the exciting things I would get to learn over the length of the course. The end of the term was a different story. Tired and ready for whatever vacation lay ahead, all I wanted was to get those heavy books out of my backpack. I always tried to sell them back to the bookstore, but every term there was at least one they would not take back. Teachers decided to switch books. The publisher had a new edition coming out and everyone was clamoring for that one instead. By the time I graduated, I had a pile of books that no one — including me — wanted anymore. Textbooks present a challenge because they are not as widely desired as, say, the newest Danielle Steel or James Patterson novel. They are often hardback books, which are harder to recycle, and they get outdated very quickly (especially in rapidly changing fields like science and technology). But, if you get them into the right hands, they can get a new life as a recycled paper product or bring new knowledge to someone eager to learn about the world around them.

The challenge of recycling books

Books seem like they should be easy to recycle. After all, they are made of paper (the pages) and more paper (the cover). The problem is twofold. The hardback part of a hardback book is so bulky and different from the pages of a book that many recyclers cannot process them while they are still connected. The spine and cover must be removed first, which can be a time-consuming process if you have a lot of books. The glue used in book’s binding can also be a hang-up for recycling companies. Rethink Recycling in Minnesota’s Twin Cities region shares that it takes one tree to make 25 books. By recycling your books you are giving that tree a new purpose and preventing more trees from being cut down. And, plenty of companies have figured out how to take both hardback and paperback books, pulp them and turn them into new paper products. Your challenge is getting them to a recycler with that capability or someone who will put the book to use in its current form.

Textbooks can be donated to charity, given to book dealers

Believe it or not, there are plenty of people out there who want your old textbooks. Several charities, such as Books for Africa, will take books and ship them to schools overseas. Check to see if they have any special requirements; Books for Africa, for example, will only take textbooks published in the last 20 years. See if your local library holds a book sale fundraiser. Many of them, including Friends of the Princeton (New Jersey) Public Library and Friends of the Ridgefield (Connecticut) Library, will accept textbooks in good condition (no mold, mildew, underlining or chew marks from the family pet). Another alternative is to send them to charities like Goodwill, which has expanded its trade in used books and is often eager for donations. Even if your college bookstore does not want your old textbook, some other college student may be looking for it. There are dozens of online sites, including bookselling giant Barnes & Noble and smaller enterprise BookFinder.com, that will buy back textbooks. Trading in used books has grown at a fast pace in recent years, and used book dealers are everywhere. Many of them take whatever books they do not sell and send them to a paper recycler. See if Textbook Recycle, Better World Books or similar companies have collection bins in your community. If they do not, you can always check out their mail-in options.

How to recycle textbooks

If your textbooks are in poor condition or so old that no one would want them, you will have to find out if your local solid waste district has a book recycling program. There is huge variety in where and how different towns accept hardback and softback books.
  • People who live in Pittsburgh and Santa Fe, NM, can put all kinds of books in their curbside recycling bin.
  • Residents of Iowa City, IA, can take paperback and hardback books to one particular transfer station — the East Side Recycling Center. In Boulder, CO, residents need to go to the Center for Hard-to-Recycle Materials (CHaRM) facility.
  • Troy, MI, and several surrounding communities split the difference: Homeowners can place softback books in their curbside bin and take hardback books to a recycling center.
  • Belmont, MA, and Rhode Island residents are encouraged to remove the hardback cover from books, place the pages in their recycling bins, and put the cover in the trash.