damaged books all destoyed in massive pile.

Two decades ago, when Discover Books was founded as Thrift Recycling Management, the company’s priority was to save the world – mainly through book recycling. By selling new and used books, we pride ourselves in giving people opportunities to discover novel things (pun intended) as books that have lived on others’ bookshelves. Regardless of a book’s condition, throwing books away should never happen when you can recycle them; however, over 2 billion pounds of books are sent to landfills in America each year. Fortunately, at Discover Books, we can and do make a difference by recycling millions of books each year. If you’ve ever been curious about how your contributions help save the planet, this is how to find out more.

What Really is Book Recycling?

So, at the most basic level, let’s unpack how books get saved from landfills. David Sharkey, an expert in the recycling industry, explains that it depends on the type of collection method and recycling plant. “Almost every scenario requires volume, and there has to be a dock where a truck can back up into and get material loaded,” Sharkey says. If recycling plants don’t have services to receive large loads of recyclable material, that material risks being improperly disposed of and tossed in landfills.

However, Sharkey also explains that if a plant has a shredder that’s big enough with proper space, equipment, and ability to blend the material, then they can handle upwards of two to three truckloads of books daily. “To put it into perspective,” Sharkey says, “there are roughly 44,000 books in a semi-truckload (see photo below).” Discover Books contributes roughly 170,000 to 204,000 books to book recycling daily. That’s about 70 million books being recycled each year! (This number fluctuates based on book collecting.)

It all goes back to Discover Books’ main goal: to let stories live on. Through recycling and giving to libraries, Discover Books provides stories with more opportunities to survive, for literacy rates to grow, and for books to live another day.

A truck filled with shredded paper used for book recycling
A truck filled with paper about to be recycled

What Can Books Turn Into?

Despite how much we love books, our book recycling may not always end with paper living another day in the form of books. There are many products that your recycled books can turn into! Sharkey explains: “If books are going to a paper mill, they’re probably going to a mill that produces cardboard through pulping. If the books have clean soft covers, then they could be shredded and sent to become newspapers. They’re also shredded and blended to become things like your mail, postcards, office paper, manila folders, tissues, paper towels, and even toilet paper. Another thing books could become is insulation for your homes – if you go into any home improvement store and see some, you’ll go, “Oh, that’s shredded books.””

A shelf of books, through book recycling, can turn into paper towels, folders, postcards, toilet paper, tissues, and cardboard
Examples of products from book recycling

Most of these are things you may or may not notice in your home, but what about outside your home? Sharkey discusses a product called hydroseed, which relies on shredded books to be blended with seeds that keep grass along the sides of highways nice and green. “It’s the same thing that goes on golf courses, and more shredded books than you’d think are shipped to those companies to be blended with seeds. That’s what provides a little additional weight, and that weight keeps the seed on the ground so it stays in the soil. It’s also used to make hamster bedding!” So, by recycling your books with Discover Books, you’ll be able to find your contribution everywhere you look!

Why Is Book Recycling So Different?

Doug Metz, who has been in the recycling business for over 30 years, expresses just how different book recycling is from the recycling of any other product. “Anybody can recycle cardboard and make another box out of it, but books are different because there are so many characteristics in a book. Whether it’s a magazine, hardcover, metal spine, fabric, etc., it’s not cookie-cutter to recycle books,” Metz says. The different elements of a book can make it very difficult to recycle properly, which is why special facilities and recycling plants handle the books that Discover Books recycles. Many paper mills mainly struggle to figure out what to do with book spines, the glue that binds pages together, and the fabrics used on covers. Metz also explains the difference in the pulping process by what kinds of books you may have on your own shelves right now:

“If you look at every book that is recycled, it could be mechanically pulped or chemically pulped. If you look at a book and the pages have a brown or creamy tint, that’s mechanically pulped. If it’s bright white, that’s chemically pulped from the tree.”

Doug Metz

This is why many older books have a brown/orange tint to their pages; they have been made from weaker paper, like what newspapers are also made from. Metz says: “When you recycle a newspaper, you recycle that type of paper 7 to 9 times. And, you can use a book several times after it’s been recycled.” So, when you decide to clean out your bookshelves and let Discover Books recycle them, we turn your paper into books for others to enjoy. (Note: we only recycle what is not able to be sold or donated.)

How Do Our Blue Book Bins Help?

Another way you support book recycling through Discover Books is by using our blue bins. There are about 2,500 bins across America from as far west as Seattle, Washington to as far east as Boston, Massachusetts. Susan Anderson, Director of the Redondo Beach Public Library, expresses her gratitude for Discover Books’ blue bins: “[The bins] let the community know what types of books are most useful as donations so they can donate those inside the library.” By dropping your books off in these blue bins, you can ensure that books land in the hands of those who support libraries and the environment. Julie Dunn, who works at a school in Watseka, Illinois, expresses her gratitude for Discover Books, saying she “know[s] they will be repurposed and shared, or recycled, which is much better than ending up in a landfill somewhere.”

One of Discover Books' blue bins where people can recycle their books
One of Discover Books’ blue bins

Because Discover Books understands the significance of saving the environment, we appreciate those who utilize our blue bins! By reusing paper instead of dumping it in landfills, you can truly see your difference on the planet. Since we emphasize book recycling throughout America, Discover Books’ mission to let stories live on helps literacy rates, communities, and schools that may not have access to more resources. So, when you are looking at your bookshelves and find a few books you weren’t too crazy about, consider sending them to Discover Books. That way, you’ll know exactly what goes on behind the scenes in the world of book recycling. If you can’t find a blue bin close to you, don’t worry because Discover Books has plenty of ways for you to still contribute. Check out our website for more information about how you can get involved in book recycling!

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