old hardcover books

Some of our younger readers may find it hard to imagine that, before the Amazon Kindle came out, we used to physically turn the pages of our books — which required just a tad bit more effort than pushing a button. While the days of old book smells may be numbered, it’s quite possible you still have a few books lying around that you no longer want.

While paperback books are commonly accepted in curbside recycling programs, their hardcover cousins can be a bit trickier to recycle. That’s because the rigid cover can be made with cloth, leather, or plastic, and the glue used to bind it is not easily removed.

But hardcover books are designed to last generations. Instead of trying to recycle them, find a reuse or donation opportunity. There are still plenty of folks around who enjoy reading an actual book.

Book Drop-off on the Go

Have you ever been in a parking lot and seen what looks like an over-sized mailbox? These are usually donation bins for local charities and recycling companies. While most of these bins are for clothing and toys, two national companies operate similar collection bins for books: Better World Books and Discover Books.

These organizations accept any types of books in good condition, and they also accept books via mail. If you can’t find a bin in your area, contact your local library, as these companies often partner with libraries and pay for books. That means your local library may accept them as well. (In fact, some libraries regularly hold sales of donated books to help fund local library programs and services, so don’t miss that opportunity!) Another reason to consider these organizations is they partner with international nonprofits to raise money through book donation.

Second-Hand Book Stores

In many communities, second-hand book stores are still plentiful, and depending on their stock and customer demand, they may accept your old novels — usually for a small amount of cash or store credit. But you might find them a bit pickier when it comes to accepting hardcover books. Most will not accept textbooks or encyclopedias because there’s no resale market, whereas the companies mentioned above don’t have such restrictions.

used bookstore
Depending on the topic and condition of the books, a used bookstore might accept your books for resale. Photo: pixabay.com

The Textbook Challenge

So, what do you do with old textbooks? They’re reprinted so frequently that there’s little demand for old ones. Sometimes, your university bookstore will take old textbooks if the books are still being used in classes, but most booksellers are likely to pass on your old textbooks. Luckily, Textbookrecycling.com will pay for your books and they offer free shipping on buybacks over $50.

The best way to avoid this challenge in the first place is to use e-textbooks or rent them.

stack of books with an apple on top
It can be hard to find a place that will accept textbooks for resale because they become outdated so quickly. Photo: pixabay.com

The Final Chapter

If you can’t find a drop-off site and books aren’t accepted curbside in your area, there’s always repurposing. There are tons of DIY projects to be made from old books.

If you’re not an artist and don’t have a local donation option, your last resort would be to remove the hardcover and recycle the paper pages in your curbside bin. But again, books (unlike most other paper products) are designed to last a long time, so please consider your other options before you try to recycle them.

By Trey Granger

Trey Granger is a former senior waste stream analyst for Earth911.