Did you know that US households send 728,000 tons of waste to landfill every day? That’s enough to fill 63,000 garbage trucks!
If you’re cleaning out your home Marie Kondo-style, think twice before tossing all your unwanted books in the trash. Like many other household items, books and magazines can be recycled.
Read on to learn how to recycle books, as well as other ways to dispose of them responsibly that may be even better for the planet!
Can books be recycled?
Yes, books can be recycled – and this includes hardcover books, paperbacks, magazines, and phone books. However, when it comes to how to recycle books, the truth is it’s more difficult than recycling purely paper items, because books also contain adhesives and other materials used in their bindings, or on their cover.
Books and magazines are considered “mixed paper” for recycling purposes, and are recycled separately from printer paper and cardboard.
In many municipalities, you can recycle books curbside – contact your local sanitation department to check. You may need to remove the cover from hardcover books, depending on your local requirements, so be sure to check this at the same time.
If your town doesn’t accept books for recycling, check out Green Citizen’s Green Directory which will show you facilities near you that will take books and magazines for recycling.
Here’s how to recycle books and magazines, step by step:
- Contact your local sanitation department and ask if they take books in their curbside recycling program, or if they offer other options for recycling books.
- If you can’t recycle old books curbside in your area, search Green Citizen’s Green Directory to find a recycling center near you that accepts books.
- Ask your local authority or the recycling center about their requirements in order to prepare the books for recycling.
- Prep the books according to the local authority or recycling center’s instructions. In most cases, this will involve some of the following:
- You will need to remove hardcovers but can typically recycle paperback books whole.
- If recycling magazines, you’ll usually need to remove plastic or other packaging and recycle it separately.
- You can usually leave any staples, cardstock, and binding intact.
NOTE: If the pages have been damaged with oil or other liquids, or have turned brown, you won’t be able to recycle them, unfortunately. Remove these pages and throw them away with your regular household trash.
Other ways to dispose of books responsibly
Recycling books is an excellent way to keep them out of landfill, but it’s not the only option. Ask about their requirements in order to prepare the books for recycling. In fact, if you have books that are in good condition, it’s better to try to give them a new home before you try to recycle them!
Despite the popularity of e-readers these days, there are still plenty of people that love to read hardcover books and paperbacks. In fact, over 750 million printed books were sold in 2020 in the US alone.
You can tap into this market to sell your old books.
There are plenty of sites that you can use to sell used books, including:
Amazon also gives you the opportunity to exchange books as part of their Trade-in Program. As part of the program, Amazon will take your gently used books and give you an Amazon gift card in return.
Many libraries are keen to accept donated books that are in good condition, or only gently used. Some libraries will also take magazine donations. They’ll either keep the books for their collections or sell them as part of their next book sale, usually in order to fund local programs.
You could also get in touch with local train stations, doctor’s offices, or dentists – basically anywhere people need to wait around – and ask if you can set up a “free books” box. All you need is a cardboard box, label it “free books” and you’ll give your books a new audience and people an alternative to scrolling on their smartphones while they wait around!
Other options for donating old books include:
- Charity stores like Goodwill and the Salvation Army take donations of used books that they sell to fund their projects.
- Many other charities like women’s shelters may also like donations of your old books.
- Schools and community groups may welcome your old old textbooks.
- Better World Books, an organization that sells the donated books to generate funds for global literacy projects. According to their website, they’ve already generated more than $24 million to fund literacy and education across the world.
- Little Free Library, which runs 32,000 little libraries across 50 states and internationally to give free access to books in communities where they are scarce. These tiny pop up libraries are like book exchanges, where avid readers can pick up books and drop off some in return.
- Bridge to Asia program accepts donations of textbooks to give Chinese teachers and students access to educational resources that aren’t available in their country.
- Freecycle, a website that helps you find a home for all your unwanted items, including books.
- Release your old books into the wild through projects like BookCrossing.com, where you leave books to be found by avid readers.
- Books Through Bars, which collects book donations for prison inmates.
- Books for Africa takes books and gives them to students in Africa that need them, as well as other resources like computers and e-readers.
If you have books that have seen better days, with torn covers or missing pages, upcycling them is a great alternative to donating them.
Here are some of the cool things you can make with old books:
- Use the pages to make envelopes of gift wrapping paper.
- Make unique gift tags from book pages, and use a dark marker to write your message.
- Create an eco-friendly DIY headboard that you can customize depending on the books you use – learn how here.
- Make a junk journal – check out this project for inspiration.
- Create a knife holder like the one in this tutorial.
- Cover furniture with the pages of your old books – take a look at this filing cabinet project.
- Make fashion accessories like this book clutch.
The options are almost endless!
Although it’s possible to recycle books and even magazines, there are certain caveats and things to keep in mind. We’ve covered the most commonly asked questions on the subject:
Can you recycle books curbside?
Yes, you can recycle books curbside, but it does depend on where you live. While many towns accept books in their regular curbside program, not all do, so be sure to check this with your local authority.
In other cases, curbside recycling programs may take paperbacks in their entirety, but may only accept hardback books once you’ve removed the hard cover.
Can you recycle hardcover books?
Yes, you can recycle hardcover books. However, they are a bit more tricky to recycle than paperbacks because they’re usually made up of a mix of different materials.
For this reason, some curbside recycling programs, as well as recycling centers, will only accept hardcover books with the cover removed. As with any item you want to recycle, always check the requirements with your local authority or recycling facility first.
Can you throw books in the trash?
Sure, you can throw old books in the trash. They’re not hazardous and don’t pose a threat to sanitation workers, nor will they leach toxins into the environment when they break down.
So in principle, there’s no issue with disposing of them with your other household waste. However, think twice before you toss your old books away like this.
Firstly, this will contribute to our growing landfill issue: as more and more waste is sent to dumps and landfill locations, authorities need to find more land to house it. Inevitably, this means that natural environments are destroyed, disrupting ecosystems and taking habitats away from animals.
Furthermore, there are so many better ways to deal with your old books. If they’re in good condition, you can donate them to local organizations or international charities.
Otherwise, you can recycle them, or even turn them into an amazing DIY project!
Is there a market for old books?
Yes, there is a market for old books – many people still love to read printed books, and there are a range of sites where you can sell reading material.
Of course, some books are more in demand than others: you’ll certainly find it easier to sell in-demand titles, and are more likely to get a good price for rare books that are in good condition.
Overall, it’s pretty easy to recycle books: you can probably do this through your local curbside recycling program, though you may need to remove the cover from hardcover books. If not, you shouldn’t struggle to find a recycling facility near you that will take them off your hands.
The only caveat to this is that if the books are ruined or have significant water damage, they probably won’t be accepted for recycling. In this case, you could consider getting crafty and upcycling them.
However, before you recycle your old books, consider donating them to a worthy cause if they’re in good condition!