How do I throw away books responsibly?
May 1, 2021 6:42 PM   Subscribe

I have a number of boxes of books from my childhood and high school years. Many have been sold or given away; the ones that are left are books that would not be good choices for donation/resale (e.g. very old versions of reference works, books that have been written in extensively, books that handle their subject matter poorly.) What is the best way to responsibly get rid of these? Can we just put them in the recycling?
posted by LSK to Grab Bag (14 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I'll be watching this thread for other ideas, but my first thought was to offer them for sale on Etsy as "art materials." There are plenty of people that want to turn books into purses or safes or side tables etc. but feel bad about "destroying a book." This seems like a perfect use for the books you're describing.
posted by queensissy at 7:09 PM on May 1, 2021 [12 favorites]

Some areas allow recycling of paperbacks in the bins, but hardbacks are never acceptable unless the cover and glue that binds the pages are removed. Some folks repurpose their hardbacks by cutting a hole in the pages to make a secret hiding place. I myself, use a razorblade utility knife to cut out the pages near the spine. It's a "craft" activity that can be done while watching TV. The cut pages can be recycled in the bins but the spines still go in the trash.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 7:18 PM on May 1, 2021 [3 favorites]

I called a local elementary school and offered the art teacher many older books as fodder for decoupage or collage, and was able to give away about 40 older books. The dullest books without pictures I did have to toss. If you have things like out of date maps or encyclopedias with extensive illustrations perhaps this would be a possibility.
posted by citygirl at 7:37 PM on May 1, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Do you live in an area that has these deceptivedonationbins run by some shady, for-profit entity?

If so, I’d say that’s an acceptable way to dispose of any books that would be unsuitable for resale.
posted by armeowda at 7:57 PM on May 1, 2021 [8 favorites]

Seconding armeowda. I run the book sale for our local Friends of the Library, and the org we pass our extras on to has those bins. Anything they can't use they sell for pulp and make a little more money off of.

Our pass-along org is actually a nonprofit with a good cause (in case you're in MA, it's More Than Words and they teach work skills to at risk teens in their bookstore, warehouses, etc.), but I'm sure that the for-profit ones get every penny they can by pulping books, and that's probably the best choice.
posted by gideonfrog at 8:02 PM on May 1, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I'm a librarian: it is totally okay to put these in recycling (cutting off hardback covers or whatever your local recycling place requires). If you want, you can get imaginative and take the pages, if they're regular old pages (i.e not color printing) and make fire starters or paper bricks out of them which always amuses my librarian heart. Sometimes people will post freebie lists for things like art projects and it's always worth trying that, we have a prepper lady around here who is always looking for old paper for... something? But ultimately, if recycling is the best way to get them out of your life, it's okay to do that for a book that has served its purpose.
posted by jessamyn at 8:35 PM on May 1, 2021 [15 favorites]

Have you heard of junk journaling?
posted by vrakatar at 10:49 PM on May 1, 2021 [2 favorites]

Book art is a whole thing and it does not require maps or illustrations. So I would probably list the books on craigslist or a neighborhood group specifically for any crafters who are into book art. If no one bites, recycle away. Or just recycle immediately, as Jessamyn suggests. No need to be burdened longer than necessary.
posted by Bella Donna at 3:05 AM on May 2, 2021

I had never heard of junk journaling. Sounds cool.
posted by Bella Donna at 3:11 AM on May 2, 2021

In my library assistant days I sliced many a cover off a book (well, bound journal volumes, mostly, which is almost worse since we had specifically paid someone to put the covers on in the first place!) so that they could be recycled. And if you’re planning to use curbside recycling keep an eye on whether you have a weight limit - in my city we’re supposed to keep the recycling bin weight under 35 pounds and if I filled my bin up with books it would weigh a lot more than that.
posted by mskyle at 3:45 AM on May 2, 2021

If you are near a Half Price Books store, give them a call. In pre-Covid times they would take whatever books you bring in, make an offer for what they want to buy, and then donate or recycle the rest (assuming you didn't want to take the remainder of the books home.) I'm not sure if their policies have changed since Covid. But in the before times it was nice to haul in a bin of books, maybe get a few bucks out of it, and not have to worry about dealing with the remainder. Since all the books you have are in non-saleable condition, it might be best to call first just to confirm they are ok with you bringing them in. If not, they might have some knowledge of how you could recycle them on your own.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 5:46 AM on May 2, 2021 [1 favorite]

Depending on where you live, you can simple place them on the sidewalk or at the end of your driveway and let people know on Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace that free books are available.

We have a Buy Nothing FB group in my area, and I put about 50 books out last week. They're mostly gone now. The rest are getting donated to our local LGBTQ-supporting charity shop.
posted by ananci at 7:26 AM on May 2, 2021

If you're willing to pay to have them recycled you can send them to terracycle.
posted by brookeb at 11:01 AM on May 2, 2021

Coming in late to say that I worked at Half Price Books, albeit many years ago. At the time, when we said “recycling,” we meant that we were positioning reselling books as good for the environment. We did do things like collecting old textbooks to be shipped to developing countries.

Plenty of books and records that we couldn’t sell, like very old paperbacks with sketchy contents, or things with mold problems, were just dumpstered. I don’t recall us significantly recycling in terms of anything like a municipal recycling program.
posted by verbminx at 6:48 PM on May 15, 2021 [2 favorites]

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