If you love reading books that you can physically hold in your hand, how can you also be environmentally conscious?

My family collects books- not specifically rare ones, not ones that would necessarily be worth a lot of money, just ones we enjoy reading. My grandmother’s house is cluttered with overwhelming piles of books, and we probably have a few hundred in my house as well. We try just to keep books we would want to read a second time, and donate the rest, but it can be hard to give something away that you’ve read, that you’ve experienced, when it’s still in good shape.

At the same time, I’ve become an avid recycler. This transformation took place pretty recently; sometime between January and this July. I went from being someone who proclaimed an apathy towards the environment (everyone supports animals and the environment; why do I have to?) to someone who picked receipts out of the bathroom garbage to carry downstairs to the recycling bin for paper.

Just knowing I have so much paper lying around my room (old class notes, cards, receipts, newspapers) which could be put to good use bothers me. It may not be logical, but I feel like for every paper I hold onto, a tree is being cut down in a rain forest somewhere, to print another paper for me to use. I’m sure on a small-scale it doesn’t work this way, but think about it; if we all contributed all of the papers we had but didn’t need to the companies that are printing paper in the first place, we’d definitely decrease the “need” for deforestation.

So, as you can imagine, I’ve started to feel pretty guilty about holding onto all these books when they could be recycled (either by circulating them to others, or literally sending them off for their pages to be ripped out and reused). At the same time, I keep buying more books, adding to this problem. While I frequent the library, there’s something special about owning a book and taking your good time reading it. E-books are a whole separate issue, since you need to have a portable device with you to read them, and they just don’t have the same integrity as paper.

In my quest to recycle, I came across 1-800-Recycling, a site which tells you what you can recycle and where, calculates your distance from the closest stores that accept your kind of recycled goods, and links you to resources listed by state. 1-800-Recycling’s advice is to make accessories out of your old neglected books, or cut through them to create intricate 3-D carvings. While both of these ideas sound cool, there’s still something sacrilegious about cutting up books.

So I’m asking you for input: what do I do with my old books? Should I give them all away to a library or school, donate them to a place where they will use the paper to print new books, make them into works of art, or is there a brilliant new idea no one has even considered?

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