Can Books Be Recycled? How To Make An Affordable Difference

Do you love reading and the environment? Here’s how to recycle books, and save both our planet and your money.

Book Culture Opinions

Readers are amongst some of the most sympathetic people out there. So, of course, many of us are concerned about climate change and related issues such as deforestation. When we look at our shelves full of books, we think to ourselves: Am I the problem? I’d like to start by reassuring you that your collection is not single-handedly destroying the environment. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider your own impact. There are lots of different ways we as individuals can hurt and protect the environment, the first and foremost way being with our vote. But if you want to make a difference in your own life and read in an environmentally conscious and affordable way, here’s how to reduce, reuse, and recycle your books.


Does the phrase “reuse, recycle, reduce” sound off to you? That’s because it’s out of order. The sequence of events corresponds to the first line of action you want to take. Recycling is important, same with reusing. But the most helpful thing is to reduce the amount of books that need to be produced in the first place. If you just want to know what to do with the extra books you have, feel free to skip to the next section. But you’ll be missing out on some helpful tips on how to save both the planet and your wallet.

Check Out Books From the Library

The library’s not just for kids. Like reading, libraries are a valuable resource for everyone, regardless of age. For the incredibly affordable cost of nothing, you can have a world of knowledge at your fingertips. And I’m not just talking about books — at libraries; it’s not uncommon to be able to take out graphic novels, audiobooks, and sometimes even DVDs and games. And if you don’t have internet access at home, they usually have computers you can use for short periods of time. Of course, there will likely be books near and dear to your heart that you’ll want to purchase for your own collection. That’s totally fine! But if you’re not sure if you like the book anyway, why spend your own money on it?


Let’s just say they don’t have the book you want to read in-house, per se. That doesn’t mean your next stop should be the store. Your library might be able to get the book on an interlibrary loan. Basically, it’s not uncommon for libraries to have agreements with other libraries, where they share their stock of books amongst each other based on local demand. Even if your library can’t receive the book you’re looking for through an interlibrary loan, if you’re willing to wait, consider putting in a purchase request. It doesn’t always guarantee anything, but generally, libraries want to stock the books people want to read. Each library will have its own guidelines on how this process works, so you can either check out their website or ask your local librarian in person.

Participate in a Book Exchange

If you have your own book-loving community, chances are you might have done this already. Your friend finishes the book they’re reading, you finish yours, and the two of you swap so you can talk about them over lunch. At its core, this is what book exchanges are all about. You can organize book exchanges amongst your friends, or sometimes book groups will hold them as well. Also, there are online book exchanges you can participate in. Just make sure you do your research, and make sure the site is legitimate.



But let’s just say you already have books you don’t want anymore. What do you do with them? It might be tempting to recycle them, but ask yourself a question first. Could someone still get value out of this? If the answer is yes, consider keeping the book in circulation. While recycling is better than throwing things out, it’s still a process that ultimately takes up energy. Reusing your books prevents that, and the people who read your books will ultimately reduce the number they buy new. It’s a win-win for everybody.

Sell them

There’s no shame in wanting to make a few dollars back from your book, but the question is, how do you do it? There’s a couple different ways, depending on the volume of books you have, and how much effort you’re willing to put into the process. If you want to make a little bit more, it might be worthwhile trying to sell your books directly to customers on something like eBay. Or if you have other things you need to get rid of, you could try a yard sale.


If you want to avoid the hassle, consider selling your used books to a company like Amazon or bookdeal. And if you want to avoid shipping altogether, consider reaching out to your local bookstores selling used items.

Donate them

If you’re not interested in selling your used books, donating them is a fantastic option. Of course, you can ask your local library if they take donations. But there are other options, too. The nonprofit organization Little Free Library has encouraged the installation of over 150,000 library boxes, from which people can leave one book, and take another. You can search for their site here. You could also donate your books to a thrift store like Goodwill, or if you’re passionate about something specific, there are a number of various organizations who take donations for people in need.


And, of course, make sure your books are in decent condition. A scuff or a dog-eared page is fine, but if it’s literally falling apart, it’s hardly a book anymore. If that’s the case or if the book no longer has value for some other reason, then it would be a good idea to consider recycling it.


Recycling is the last step in our arsenal. If you skipped the previous sections, I highly suggest you go back and read the rest of this article when you have the chance. But if you’re just here to know how to recycle books, then you’ve made it!

How to Recycle Books

Recycling books isn’t actually too bad. For magazines or paperbacks, you’re generally good to chuck that whole thing in the recycling bin. Unfortunately, because hardcover books have non-paper elements, you’ll need to remove and throw their covers out. The rest of the paper in the book should be fine to go in the bin.


That said, there are instances where you cannot donate a book. Much like pizza boxes, if it’s wet and greasy, it has to get thrown out. Books that are moldy are also, unfortunately, destined for the trash. And, of course, if you want to be safe, you can always contact your local recycling program to make sure they take books.

Consider Upcycling

If you’re a creative individual, I’ve got a bonus option for you. Not all paper is created equally, but just about everything can be a canvas if you put your mind to it. You can rip out the pages and draw on them that way, or straight up use the book as a sketchbook.


As an artist, I personally think it creates a really cool aesthetic. You could also try blackout poetry, which is where you color in most of the page, but leave a few words uncovered to create a poem. If you don’t like traditional art or poetry, you could also shred the pages and turn them into homemade paper, practice origami, or even turn these books into secret storage compartments. With a little imagination and elbow grease, an unwanted book can become your next cool project.

Want more environmentally-themed content? Check out ocean themes to inspire your writing here and rainforest books to read to your kids here.