5 Creative Ways to Be a Green Bookworm


There are few pleasures in life greater than curling up with a good book – preferably along with a nice glass of wine. Minimalist interior designers might disagree but as far as I’m concerned, a full bookshelf is what turns a house into a home. It’s also an eco-choice since it doesn’t require any electricity to actually read a book, except lighting at night.

Yet these days I’m far less likely to buy my books new. My book habit alone could be responsible for the loss of two large trees per year – one Canadian spruce produces just 24 books, according to Greenpeace. The publishing industry is not as green as it could be and dodgy paper sources have helped fuel the destruction of ancient forests in Finland, Indonesia and Canada.

Equally important, I look for ways to recycle my books when I’m done. I used to be very attached to my books but I’ve come to the realisation that I can’t keep every volume that passes through my hands. If a book is gathering dust and it’s an easily obtainable paperback, there’s no reason to hang on to it.

Beyond these initial steps, here are 5 simple tips for greening your reading:

-Support publishers doing the right thing.

There are times in life where books need to be new – whether you want to treat yourself to a latest release, buy a gift for a friend or support a favorite author. If you are buying new books, it’s a good idea to ensure it’s printed on sustainable paper. The good news is that this is getting easier.

Greenpeace started the Book Campaign in Canada in 2000, urging publishers to clean up their act – which means using as much recycled paper as possible and ensuring that any virgin fiber comes comes from sustainable sources certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. The environmental organisation has taken its campaign globally and achieved some good results. Since 2000, publishers that have adopted ethical paper sourcing policies include Random House, Harper Collins, Penguin, Bloomsbury and Egmont – and recently Hachette finally joined the party. If you have the time, it’s worth writing to your favourite publishers, letting them know that this is something you care about.

-Use the local public library.

For some people, it’s been years since they stepped into a public library. That’s a pity because most libraries have a surprisingly good range of books and there’s the added warm fuzzy of supporting the local community. The more people use the library, the more that lawmakers will fund them and that’s particularly important in poorer areas where people don’t always have money to buy books.

Libraries have changed in the past decade too – my local library is open until 9pm on week nights, both Saturday and Sunday until 5pm, and it has free wifi and a café with decent espresso coffee. Admittedly, they’re not all like that but it’s worth checking as you might be pleasantly surprised.

-Buy secondhand.

The mantra “reduce, reuse, recycle” applies to books as much as anything else and however ethical the paper source, second-hand books are by far the greenest way to indulge your inner bookworm. Buying used is also a money saver, a distinct benefit for many people in these tough economic times.

In the old days, the only sources for second-hand books were used bookstores, charity shops, and church and school fundraiser sales.  These days it’s much easier because of the rise of online book stores and the trend for people to sell their old books on sites such as eBay and Amazon.

-Swap books online.

This is where it gets clever. There are now at least half a dozen websites where you can swap books with other people. California-based BookMooch is one of the biggest and is international, but there’s also WhatsOnMy Bookshelf, PaperBackSwap, Bookins and UK-based Read It, Swap It.

Generally, the way it works is that you get credit for the books you share and you can use that credit to request the books you want.

-Share books online.

BookCrossing is a bit different from the other book swapping sites because it doesn’t work on a credit system. It appeals to people who enjoy something a bit more random or are looking for a social element. The main idea is that every book registered on the site gets a unique number that is used to track the book. You write the number in the front of the book with some instructions and then send the book out into the world – perhaps via a so-called “wild release”, where you leave it in a random public place for a stranger to find. If you are lucky they might go to the website and write a journal entry, so that you can see where the book has gone and what people think of it.

If you typically pass books on to friends or leave them in hotels and trains when you travel, then BookCrossing might add a fun element. Best of all, it all works on a trust basis and as one further evidence of good will in the BookCrossing community, many members like to indulge in “RABCKs” – random acts of BookCrossing kindness – where they will send someone a free book for their wish list without expecting anything in return.

Learn more about greening your reading.

Image: tanakawho