The semester is over, or better, you’ve graduated. Naturally, you are asking yourself, “What am I supposed to do with my old textbooks?” They cost you an arm and a leg, so it’ll be a waste just to let them go. 

By this time, you’ve probably learned all about textbook costs and why they lose value so fast. You may have even checked BookScouter for the best prices for your used textbooks. 

Yet, not all of your textbooks are in pristine condition; some of them may have seen much better days, others may be even torn. You may also have other books at home you no longer need. So what do you do when you’ve checked the books you want to sell, and they aren’t worth very much? Your first instinct may be to throw your books in the trash. But wait! There are better options. This article will give you insight into what to do with your used books. 

“Houston, We Have a Problem,” or the Current Book Recycling Situation

Throwing books mindlessly in the trash is honestly not the best idea. Here is why. 

We discard a lot of paper—tons of it. The most recent report on waste and recycling from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that of the 293 million tons of municipal solid waste (MSW) produced in 2018, the share of “Paper and Paperboard” was as much as 23.05%

17.2 million tons (or 11.8%) of this paper and paperboard went to landfills, books including.

The very same report specifies that “Books made of groundwood and chemical pulp amounted to approximately 690,000 tons, or 0.2% of total MSW generation in 2018.” Unfortunately, there is very little data on the waste management of books specifically apart from what was collected between 1990 and 2005. The chart looks like this:

Books waste management chart
Chart courtesy of epa.gov

The 2009 EPA report indicated that while 33% or so of books were recovered from the waste stream (and recycled?), about 640,000 tons went to landfills annually, with books making 0.4% of all this waste

Well, this data is outdated and might not be entirely relevant today. Still, if we compare the chart mentioned above with the most recent one that depicts the management of non-packaging paper, we can see that the trend must have remained:

Paper waste recycling chart
Chart courtesy of epa.gov

Though we can see that the overall numbers go down, and some book recycling is definitely being done, still an avalanche of paper travels to landfills, tons of books among them. Only imagine mountains and mountains of books! Heartbreaking…

Looking at a smaller region, a survey of 570 K-12 schools in Wisconsin and Minnesota found that 37% of them store old and damaged books in the school because they do not know what to do with them. The other thousands of textbooks from K-12 schools and higher education are dumped into landfills. Spaces in buildings and landfills are both being abused by the mass amounts of discarded old school textbooks. 

So, What to Do with Old Books?

The amount of waste generated from old textbooks is astounding. I bet you were not expecting those kinds of numbers, right? However, all the statistics mentioned above do not mean recycling textbooks is inconsequential. Quite the opposite!

These findings demand response and radical change of behavior in our purchasing and discarding of books. What we can start with is to pause before throwing anything away, especially books. The next step is to understand is how we can dispose of them in a way that will either prolong their life or end it in an eco-friendly way.

Recycle or donate old school textbooks
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Resell Your Books

Some of the books in your possession may still be valuable and can be offered for sale on online platforms. You can make a thorough check of all your textbooks and even fiction books and try to sell them on either eBay, or Amazon, or other online platforms. 

Get extra cash for the books you no longer need, but somebody does. Various vendors offer different buyback prices on used books depending on their state and popularity. Check BookScouter for the best offers.

However, if your attempts at reselling textbooks were fruitless, consider these options: book donation, trading, and recycling.

Donate Your Books 

When reselling is not an option, what should you do with your books from 10 years ago? The best you can do is to pass them along to someone else. You have books that you no longer use, and there might be someone who needs them right now. If you don’t have such a person among your friends and relatives, you can donate your books. If you live in the United States, you have several options. 

Book Donation Drop-off Sites

Better World Books provides donation boxes in selected locations. Since the early days of Better World Books in South Bend, Indiana, this company has been focusing on addressing environmental and social needs through the book reselling strategy. We recommend looking into donating to their efforts first to make the greatest impact. 

Book drop-off near me
Chart courtesy of Recyclenation

From Miami to Minneapolis and Kansas City to Boston, Better World Books provides drop-off sites throughout the eastern half of the U.S. Check their search page to find a Better Books drop-off is located near you or book donation bins in other areas.

Donate to Charity Organizations

A local option is to donate your books to organizations like Goodwill, Salvation Army, and your community’s thrift store. These centers will take donations of almost any sort, but be sure to check their specific guidelines for donations. If you already donate your clothes or former household items to Goodwill or the Salvation Army, adding books that you no longer need to your “donate” pile is easy. Check our earlier article to learn more about Salvation Army book donation and other charities that take used books.

Donate to Libraries

Last but certainly not least, if you don’t know what to do with old textbooks, it is easy to find a home for your textbooks by checking your local library branch’s website for their donation process. Local libraries could use your books in their system or find another avenue for book donation on your behalf. Several library organizations, even those of small cities like the Springfield, Missouri Library, host book sales every year that serve as fundraisers for the local library branches. 

Donate books to local library
Photo by Dan Wayman on Unsplash

Library book sales are great places to donate used books and raise funds for your local community. 

Donate Globally

The following options are great for making a global impact if you are still wondering what to do with old books.

  • Books Through Bars and Books to Prisoners share a similar mission. These organizations re-ship your books to men and women who are incarcerated with the hope of re-introducing a love of reading and breaking the cycle of recidivism. Paperback dictionaries are in high demand here. If you have an extra one or two, consider donating those books specifically to these organizations. 
  • Books for Africa accepts textbook donations so that students of all ages in Africa can receive educational materials. Their goal is to eliminate the book famine across the African continent and raise literacy rates through strategic book donations. 
  • There are plenty of other organizations and companies that donate books to schools. If you want to help a specific group, check the International Donation and Shipment of Books page from the American Library Association.
Donate books to charity organizations
Image courtesy of Books for Africa

Trade Your Books 

If, however, you still want to make some profit off of your book, consider trading in your book for new-to-you books, movies, toys, or any other items you want.

Most likely, you are already lending or swapping books with friends. Companies like PaperBack Swap can help you expand your book-sharing network. PaperBack Swap has over one million books you can swap, ranging from popular titles to obscure books.

BookMooch uses point systems for trading in your books. BookMooch focuses specifically on trading in books. Users only need to pay for shipping books and receive points in exchange for the books they have given. BookMooch also allows users to donate their points to charities, including children’s hospitals.

Another multi-item trade site is Swap.com. Beyond books, users can also exchange collections of toys, clothes, and more on the site or the Swap App.  

Recycle Your Books 

Prepare Your Books for Recycling

If your book is in unacceptable condition for donation, try to recycle it. We’ve already discussed the numbers behind book recycling. To help these numbers increase and make an impact, always research the recycling measures you need to take before you give your books away by looking online or calling your local recycling service. 

Remove the book cover before recycling
Image courtesy of Instructables

It is common for recycling services to require the removal of the hardback cover because of the material and strong glue that binds the pages. Yet, some recycling facilities are capable of shredding the entire book. If you have many hardcover books you want to recycle, follow this simple guide on how to prepare your hardcover book for recycling.

Where Is Book Recycling Near Me?

If you don’t know where the closest book recycling facility is, you can simply google “Where are book recycling bins near me?”, hit “search,” and get plenty of alternatives. 

You can also use the Earth911 service that provides tips on book and magazine recycling. Scroll to the bottom of their recycling locator page, where Earth911 will help you locate places to donate books based on the type of material.

Book recycling near me
Image courtesy of earth911

Find local recycling information with the help of Berecycled. They have a special tool on their website that helps locate governmental and commercial options in your area. For instance, here is what you can find in the University of Delaware area:

Book recycling bins near me
Image courtesy of Berecycled

Local Book Donation and Recycling Guide

  • Where to donate books in New York?

If you want to donate books in NYC, you can do it directly to bookstores such as Freebird Books & Goods, Housing Works Bookstore Cafe, Unnameable Books, Westsider Rare & Used Books Inc., and many more. You can search the bookstores’ addresses and phone numbers in Google, call them, and ask for details. You can also offer your used books to public libraries in New York or try to resell them with the help of BookScouter if they are in good condition.

  • Where can I make book donations in the Chicago area?

Bookstores such as Open Books (various locations), Uncharted Books, Book Driver, Bernie’s Book Bank, and many more accept books as donations in Chicago. Depending on your district, you can check book donation drop-off locations by Better World Books or give them away to Chicago Books for Women in Prison or The Newberry (Chicago’s Independent Research Library). Make sure to call the former in advance, as they don’t accept drop-offs. With the latter, consider it as an option if you have valuable books that you feel generous to give away, as the library “donations of items that will extend, strengthen, and complement the library’s collection.” 

  • Where to donate books in Los Angeles?

The best places to donate books in Los Angeles are bookstores such as The Last Bookstore, Sideshow Books, The Iliad Bookshop, and many others. You can also search for a “book drop-off near me” or “charities that take books near me” in Los Angeles or pass your old books to Access Books. The organization is currently accepting books for elementary school students in excellent condition. ​One more option is to donate your books to Re-Book It. Arrange the pick-up by emailing them. Plenty of other book-donating options are available in Los Angeles.

  • Where to recycle books in Los Angeles?

Book recycling in Los Angele is equally popular as book donations. However, before you take them to the closest recycling center, check whether books are recyclable in your area. In the LA area, policies and recommendations can vary from city to city, so always check with your municipality first whether they accept books in any state or with hardback covers and spines removed, for instance. Also, check the Textbook Agency recycling program in LA.

  • Where to donate books in Minneapolis?

Check the following bookstores for book donations in Minneapolis: Boneshaker Books or Half Price Books. Trade your books in Paperback Exchange or try to sell them via  BookScouter. Make an impact and pass your books to those who may benefit from them by joining the Women’s Prison Book Project.

  • Where to donate books in San Jose?

You can find the complete list of places to recycle stuff (books including) in San Jose on Recyclestuff. The service, created as a collaborative effort by Counties of Santa Clara and San Mateo, Environmental Studies Department, and San Jose State University, will direct you to the recycling services in your area. Also the Resource Directory on the official website of San Jose gives you the most accurate update on all local nonprofit agencies, thrift stores, churches, libraries, and shelters that accept donations.

  • Where to donate books in Houston?

The first place for book donation in Houston is Houston Public Library. Also, check Books Between Kids, Houston Center for Hearing and Speech, and Star of Hope Mission. All these places will be glad to take your books in. Just remember to make an appointment in advance; some of them may not accept drop-offs. 

  • Where to donate books in New Jersey?

Have grown-up kids and want to know where to donate books in NJ? Bridge of Books Foundation is probably the best place to go. They welcome both individual donations and donations from publishing houses and transfer books to kids who can’t afford them. New Legacy Books also accepts books in good condition but only with IBSNs. You can also ask around bookstores (e.g., Symposia Community Book Store) if they are accepting used books and textbooks at the moment.

  • Where to donate books in Boston?

Apart from Goodwill drop-off Boston, you can check local bookstores in Boston. Some of them, such as More Than Words Books, do it all the time. You can also make sure that your books get a new life if you pass them to other people via Boomerangs, Cradles to Crayons, or Massachusetts General Hospital for Children.

Dealing with old books may seem like a hassle at first. However, with all the information you now have, a solution to this problem is as easy as a click or a phone call away. If you can’t sell your textbook on BookScouter, donate your textbooks to benefit education locally and abroad. Recycling textbooks keeps them out of the landfill and repurposes them. The more you donate and recycle, the more you contribute to a greater good and help the planet. Be part of the solution! The next time you feel the urge to throw a book in the trash, don’t. Give a new life for your textbook.

Go a Step Further—Buy and Use Your Books Mindfully

Now that we’ve covered paper waste statistics, book recycling, and donation alternatives, here is something else you can think about. There is something you can do before you even have to deal with the problem of used books. You can be more conscious in the process of their purchase in the first place.

Rent, borrow, or buy used books
Photo by Morgan Harper Nichols on Unsplash

When you think you need to buy a new book, think twice whether you need a physical book, or maybe an audiobook or an ebook will suffice. If you are still positive about a purchase, consider renting, borrowing, or purchasing a used book. By doing so, you can lower the demand for printed books and help the environment just a little. 

Rent Books

Renting books is most often practiced by college students. Since the rental explosion popularized by Chegg in 2003, most college campuses are now encouraging students to rent their textbooks either through the campus bookstore or other platforms like Chegg. Bookscouter not only compares prices for selling books, but you can also compare prices for renting the books you need. 

Borrow Books

The least expensive method for using books is borrowing. You may want to read a book your friend has already finished. Consider asking them to lend you their copy. This similar concept can be used on college campuses as well. If you have trouble finding someone to lend you a book for free, offer them one of your books in exchange. When borrowing books, make sure you take extra care of your friends’ property. 

Buy Books 

Shopping second-hand is increasing in popularity, and for a good reason. To make less of an impact on the environment, we all need to shop second-hand more often for various items—books included. Make BookScouter your first stop when you need to purchase a book. This platform will save you money. BookScouter includes popular vendors like Amazon and sellbackyourBook, compares prices, and highlights the best offers. Once you are done with the book, you can always sell it back through BookScouter.

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