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Don’t Toss Out Old Books! Here’s What to Do With Them Instead

Looking to clear out space on your bookshelf? Here's how to recycle old books without sending them to the curb.

Written by
Angelica Pizza

Book lovers everywhere cringe at the mere thought of throwing away books. For most avid writers and readers, books tell personal stories and educate us on a myriad of topics. And while Kindles and e-readers have become popular, many readers still love to hold a hardcopy in their hands.

Books Aren't Going Anywhere

According to Statista, over 825 million books were sold in 2021, and about 450,000 were trade paperbacks, making paperback books the dominant format.

Even though books look great on our shelves, book publishing requires a lot of paper, and subsequently, a lot of trees. One tree can produce over 8,000 sheets of paper, and in the United States, about 626,000 tons of paper are used to produce books each year. Another downside to books is that they can get worn out pretty easily.

If you have a stack you're looking to get rid of, there's a way to go about it without harming the planet. Instead of sending them to the landfill, where they'll emit greenhouse gases, learn how to recycle books like a pro.

How to Recycle Books

If you're getting rid of books in bad condition, don't just throw them in the trash. If your books are in poor condition—meaning they're torn, missing pages, or simply unreadable—it's time to learn how to recycle books.

Before recycling books—both paperback and hardcover—be sure to check with your local recycling facility. Your town's curbside recycling system may have its own rules for recycling paperbacks. Some facilities don't accept books at all, while others take both paperbacks and hardcovers.

Generally, most paperback books can be recycled with curbside paper recycling programs. But to recycle hardcover books, you may need to remove the pages from the hardcover binding. At many recycling facilities, only the paper inside the cover can be recycled with regular mixed paper recycling.

The cover can include heavy cardboard, fabric, or even leather; therefore, it typically can't go in the paper recycling. But before tossing it out, always check with your local recycling facility to see if there's any way to keep it out of the trash.

If you're still unsure of how to recycle books, look for book recycling drop-off locations. Similar to how there are battery and textile recycling drop-off spots, there may be book recycling spots! You can even call up your local library and see how they handle book waste.

However, if your books are gently-used and still readable, don't throw them away. Books are always in demand, whether they're textbooks or paperback novels, and it's likely there's someone out there who wants the books you own! Check out these creative ways to find a new home for your books.

What to Do With Gently-Used Books

1. Donate to Thrift Stores and Secondhand Bookstores

Thrift stores and used bookstores are always looking for donations! If you're getting rid of gently-used books, donate them.

That way, other people can enjoy the book and start a collection without buying brand new. Plus, it keeps waste out of landfills and finds new homes for pre-loved books!

2. Find a Little Free Library

Little Free Library is a non-profit organization that helps book lovers share their favorite stories and find new ones—for free! Check out its website to find a pop-up near you.

All you need to do is bring your books to the outdoor wooden library and leave them for someone to take. Plus, you can even use it to find your next read. It's one of the biggest book exchanges in the world—and it keeps books from getting trashed.

3. Host a Book Swap

If you're looking to unload old books, host a book swap with fellow book lovers. Gather your friends, family, and neighbors, and trade!

Swapping books not only saves you money, but it also finds new homes for old books you no longer need. Plus, you can keep hosting swaps to keep the chain going.

4. Donate to Schools, Charities, or Libraries

Check local schools, charities, and libraries for book drives and donation boxes. Donating your books gives people who need them the opportunity to get their hands on them, without spending a lot of money.

If you have old textbooks or novels, be sure to donate them so students and book lovers alike can read them. Instead of going into the trash, they'll be loved for years to come.

5. Leave Them on Your Stoop

If you live in a busy city, try stooping! Stooping simply means leaving your old stuff—furniture, home decor, and even books—on your front stoop so other people can take it.

This is especially popular in New York City and other heavily populated locations. All you have to do is leave your books outside your home with a sign indicating they're free. Then, let the book lovers come to you!