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Can You Recycle Books?

Can You Recycle Books?

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The short answer is yes. You can recycle your books. But while recycling your empty Aquafina bottle or unwanted L.L. Bean catalog is a moral imperative, recycling books is just different. Even the tweeting masses, incapable of wresting their fingers from their smartphones to actually read books, agree. Discarding books is an affront to a literary ethos steadily evaporating under the oppressive expanse of the digital cloud. 

So buy your recycling bags from But think twice before tossing your old book.

Paper Books Are Critically Endangered

That may be an overstatement. But paper books are at least vulnerable in the extinction hierarchy. The post-pandemic supply chain issues we’re seeing everywhere is coming for books. The price of wood pulp used to make books has shot up almost 60 percent. And paper mills are prioritizing other products, like cardboard, over books. The fact that publishers pre-plan their book releases months or even years in advance explains why you may not have noticed empty shelves at your favorite bookstore.

Even if you use eco-friendly garbage bags, wouldn’t it be a shame if you tossed your copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude from your college days in the blue bin when Márquez’s words can stir another reader’s spirit?

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Blurred image of a row of books on shelf in a bookstore. Close up of books on shelf. Bookstore background. Retro effect.

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Donate Unwanted Books

When you recycle plastic bottles, you’re extending the usability of the materials used to make it. But when you recycle a book, you’re cutting short the power of the written words in it. Instead, donate your gently used books.

Your Local Library

Your local library’s operating expenses have gone up 17 percent since 2017. And they’re spending less of their budget on paper books. Book donations help libraries bridge the $4 billion deficit in government funding.

Donate Children’s Books

The Children’s Book Bank works with local agencies to provide books to disadvantaged children. You can donate your gently used children’s books.

Donate Books to Troops Overseas

Operation Paperback sends gently used books to veterans, military families and troops stationed overseas. You can sign up to become a Volunteer Shipper.

Sell Your Books Online

Powell’s Books in Portland, OR provides an easy way to sell your books. Simply enter your books’ ISBN numbers and the bookseller will make an offer. You’ll get paid once they receive your shipment.

Sell Your Textbooks

Somewhere out there, there’s a grad student eating ramen noodles to afford the second edition of Microbiology. Support a good cause and sell your used textbooks on You can help starving students afford pizza and a beer.

Sell Seemingly Outdated Books on eBay

You can try making a little extra cash selling outdated books to collectors on eBay. Who knew there was a market for a vintage instruction manual for the extinct Commodore 64?

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Recycle Your Books

Some books aren’t fit for donating or selling. Libraries and starving college kids don’t want your outdated, musty tomes. If the following describes any of your books, it’s time to recycle rather than reuse.

  • Water-damaged
  • Moldy
  • Torn or missing pages
  • Outdated, for example, your Commodore 64 manual that didn’t sell
  • Old encyclopedias and Reader’s Digest condensed books

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How to Recycle Books

Paper books can go in your blue bin just like any other paper material. Hardcover books, on the other hand, require a little extra care. Call your local recycling center to find out if they accept hardcover books. If not, then remove the cover before placing the rest of the book in the recycling bin. Use large black trash bags when tossing your book covers. Our Earth-Friendly Policy means you’re helping the environment even when you bag your trash. 

According to the EPA, Americans discarded almost 700,000 tons of books in 2018. And while we don’t know how many of those books were recycled, less than half of paper and paperboard products overall were recycled.

Recycling your old books is certainly better than tossing them in your Simplehuman garbage bags. But while recycling will let the materials live on, the author’s ideas contained within the book are gone forever. So why not try selling or donating your gently used books before recycling them?

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