Pop Culture

It’s Okay to Recycle Unwanted Books

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Sarah Nicolas

Staff Writer

Sarah Nicolas is a recovering mechanical engineer, library event planner, and author who lives in Orlando with a 60-lb mutt who thinks he’s a chihuahua. Sarah writes YA novels as Sarah Nicolas and romance under the name Aria Kane. When not writing, they can be found playing volleyball or drinking wine. Find them on Twitter @sarah_nicolas.

The great Marie Kondo War on Books seems to be simmering down. While some book lovers have moved all their books into a steel and concrete safe room just in case Marie Kondo kicks down their door to seize their most beloved books from their hands and throw them into her flaming wood chipper, many more people agree with her exceedingly gentle actual approach.

Thousands of people now have boxes of books that have served their purpose or were never wanted in the first place and are wondering what’s next. While Rioter Abby has some great ideas for what to do with those books, you may find you want them out of your house ASAP. The best and fastest way to do this is to donate them. I’m an avid reader, an author, and a library employee, so I say this from the bottom of my bibliophile heart:

Some books don’t deserve to be donated.

I chatted with the manager of my library’s used bookstore to find out what kinds of donations are more a burden than a gift. Our books store is sizable and moves quite a bit of inventory, but there are still books they can’t sell. Keep in mind that these items will change depending on the organizations needs and resources, so check with your intended beneficiary before proceeding.

Obsolete nonfiction books are the biggest culprit. This includes guides for software no longer in use, cookbooks relying on old technology (think 1970s microwave cookbooks), out-of-date information, disproved theories, out-of-use textbooks, and encyclopedias.

Books that are damaged in any way: water stains, mold, tears, or marks on the pages. If there is any chance your books might have bed bugs, please don’t bring those near the library — those little creatures can infect everything else in the building! Books with strong smells, like those kept in the house with a cigarette smoker or smelly animals, will be disposed of before they can transfer their odor to nearby books.

Fiction books that everyone has too many of. These books are a victim of their own popularity.

Our bookstore manager did share with me one type of book that she can always sell, no matter its condition. Classic books on school reading lists get snapped up every semester when the hold list gets too long.

If you’ve tried a couple places and no one will take your books, what can you do? Don’t drop them at your library and run, hoping no one will notice. Library workers and volunteers are already over-tasked and under-funded, so please don’t add to the burden. All we can do is recycle or trash it, so you’re simply transferring that responsibility to us. While we’re on the topic, don’t get nasty with them when they say they can’t accept your donation. It’s nothing personal, we promise.

It’s okay to recycle truly unwanted books.

I know it’s painful. If it helps, “each ton of paper recycled saves 3 cubic yards of landfill space, 380 gallons of oil and 17 trees, not to mention 4,000 kilowatts of energy and 7,000 gallons of water.” (source) Your recycled books could become new books or the box that delivers your new books!

To bring it back to Marie Kondo, one of her methods from The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up had a profound impact on my ability to remove unwanted objects from my life. When I first read that she wanted me to thank items for their time and service, I thought that was a little too wacky for my tastes. I’m pretty sure I literally rolled my eyes. But then I tried it. It’s amazing how much guilt and shame that simple, silly act assuaged for me. Try it!

Make sure to look up your local recycling policies. With their binding and glue, books are mixed materials so the recycling process is different. You may not be able to toss them in with other paper recyclables, but you might be able to drop them off at a local recycling center instead. Paperbacks can be recycled as-is, but hardcovers must be removed before being sent to recycling. Books with moldy pages cannot be recycled, but must be tossed in the trash before they can spread their mold to other books.

If a book cannot be reused or given new life in some other way, it’s perfectly okay to recycle it.