What to Do with Old Books

By Maureen Wise in Thinking Sustainably

If you're an avid reader, you probably have a bookshelf bursting with books . . . and stacks of books that don't fit on that bookshelf . . . and probably a few out on loan from your local library. That's great! The power of literature has been scientifically studied—though a good story's full mental and emotional impact likely touches us in ways we will never fully understand.

Do you have books that have already worked their magic on you and are now lying around, collecting dust? Are you unsure of what to do with old books? From donating, gifting, upcycling, and recycling, there are many paths to honor old books while also making room on your bookshelf. Here are just a few ideas of what to do with old books.

Exchange Them

If your books are still in good condition, why not share them with other book lovers! Ask your bibliophile friends if they're interested in your reads. Or, look for a Little Free Library in your neighborhood to find new books and share your unwanted titles. These small structures are just the place to exchange books sans fees or due dates. You can even make your own outside your home and become your own librarian!

Donate Them

You're probably hanging out at your local library already, right? Ask about donating your old books there. If you have an unwanted collection of children's books, you could also look into donating to a daycare or children's hospital. Here are a few other places to consider:

  • Homeless shelters
  • Nursing homes
  • Theatres
  • Charities that collect and distribute clothing, such as Goodwill or Salvation Army

Do ask before dropping off at any of these places. You might consider multiplying your donations before you go by organizing a community book drive while also raising some funds for your chosen cause.

Craft Them

If your books are worn out, upcycling them into something new is a great way to honor them. Something you've probably already seen is something called a book safe. Hollow out the middle of a book by cutting into its pages to make an intriguing place to hold secrets. This is a really unique gift but fair warning: it might crush your book-loving soul as you cut into precious pages.

You might consider doing something similar to hold pens or plants (with the addition of a waterproof liner). The possibilities are endless. Book pages can make gift tags or can be folded into unique greeting card envelopes. You can use the spine of a hardback book as a fancy bookmark. Or you can keep it simple and paint directly onto pages for a one-of-a-kind piece of art.

Just imagine, you could decorate your entire home library with artfully destroyed books!

Hollow book containing US dolars

Recycle Them

Sometimes, a book is just at the end of its life. When books are far too tattered or missing pages, they should not be donated or passed on. Additionally, outdated textbooks or how-to books aren't always worth keeping for archival reasons. In these situations, recycling is the best path.

  • For paperbacks, you can likely just recycle them in your usual curbside or drop off recycling location. However, it's always best to check how to recycle books with your local recycling authority.
  • For hardbacks, because the binding contains glue, you'll need to remove and discarded it before you can recycle the paper pages.

Watch Your Overall Consumerism

As you continue to read your way through life, only buy books that you know you'll want to keep for many years. Consider buying e-books, sharing copies with friends, or borrowing from the library instead of adding to your collection. This will curtail the demand for new, printed books, reducing the number of trees being cut down for paper. Being mindful of your purchases is better for your wallet and the Earth.

Are you inspired to do more recycling and upcycling? For more eco-friendly ideas and inspiration, follow the Thinking Sustainably board from @tomsofmaine on Pinterest!

Image Sources: Pexels | Maureen Wise

The views and opinions expressed in any guest post featured on our site are those of the guest author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of Tom's of Maine.

Why It's Good

Being mindful of how you dispose of any excess or waste (including old books) in your home is an environmental best practice for both your own peace of mind and the planet.