You can never tell where an idea will lead you. Such was the case with a pair of friends, Xavier and Kreece, who graduated from Notre Dame. The duo didn’t have much in the way of professional prospects after graduating, with the exception of tutoring members of the Notre Dame football team in advanced mathematics and computer courses. What they did have, however, were stacks and stacks of discarded textbooks.

Set your Way Back Machine for a time before we all bought our textbooks on Amazon and sold our unwanted items on eBay. In those days, when the friends looked at the books and came up with the idea to sell them online, it was innovative. They soon learned that the idea was a great one.

Even in the middle of summer, the books were flying off the shelves — or out of the piles, as the case seemed to have been. With the great success, the duo decided to do a fundraiser using recycled books as the fuel. In just six months, they’d raised $10,000. They knew they were onto something.

Fast forward to today, and the company now known as Better World Books has saved 146 million pounds of books from landfills and reclaimed more than 900,000 pounds of metal shelving for libraries around the globe. I found out about Better World Books on the way to my favorite natural food store. Right there in the parking lot was a large metal box that looks a lot like the clothing donation boxes distributed around town. But this wasn’t for clothing, it was for books.

As an admitted bibliophile, I was intrigued to say the least. What I found was better than I expected. Like other websites, you can purchase new and used books at a discounted price from Better World Books. But what I think is tremendous is that donated books are either sold to help fund a variety of literacy programs or they end up in communities where they are needed most. And as part of their sustainability commitment, Better World Books never throws away books — if they can’t find a home for the book, the book is recycled.

Among other programs supported, Better World Books partners with Books for Africa, National Center for Families Learning, Room to Readk and Worldfund. Each organization promotes literacy for children in their own way. The National Center for Families Learning, for example, addresses illiteracy by helping families learn together. And Worldfund works to improve impoverished parts of Latin America by arming individuals with literacy in order to promote education and advancement.

You don’t have to donate books to help out, however. When you purchase a book from the site, there’s a note in your shopping cart that tells you which program the book is helping to fund. It might simply be the general literacy fund or you may find that purchasing a silly book by The Oatmeal helps Books for Africa. It’s just another little detail that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy on the inside.

I don’t know if it’s the spring-cleaning bug that’s recently bit us or something else, but you’ve probably seen a trend here lately about clearing junk out of your house. Better World Books helps you do that with your books by offering free shipping in addition to the strategically placed donation boxes mentioned earlier. The cliché is that one man’s junk is another man’s treasure. In the case of books, this is especially true. What you’re donating is more than just a book collecting dust; it’s a window to the outside world for a child or adult who otherwise may not have had such an opportunity.

By Megan Winkler

Eco-nerd, solar power enthusiast, DIY diva and professional coffee drinker, Megan has written everything from courses in healthcare and psychology to interior design and cooking advice. She has a master’s degree in military history, owns two chainsaws, is a collector of strange trivia and a world renowned Pinterest pro. She is constantly looking for better ways to do things.