Why can’t we recycle books?
Although books are a potentially recyclable material, most municipalities in the United States currently do not allow recycling of books.
In 1977, former President Carter said, “Solid waste is the discarded leftovers of our advanced consumer society. This growing mountain of garbage and rubbish represents not only an attitude of indifference towards precious natural resources, but also a serious economic and public health problem.
He was referring to the fact that several million tons of potentially recyclable materials are sent to landfills across the United States each year. By not having programs in place that would allow these materials to be recycled, not only are we missing out on many opportunities that would result in job creation, but we are also contributing to many environmental problems.
Why are books not included in municipal recycling?
The technologies that make it possible to recycle books exist. Bookstores have the option of sending some of the books they cannot resell to publishers.
Elementary schools, high schools, colleges, universities, public libraries, and religious institutions return their books to publishers when the books they use are replaced by newer editions.
Publishers also have many boxes of misprints and defective copies in their warehouses. Publishers send outdated editions of books and poorly printed copies to paper recycling companies that turn them into pulp.
However, books that individuals no longer wish to keep and books that charity shops cannot sell are almost never recycled.
Pollution is nothing but resources we don’t harvest
During my research on this article, the most recent data I could find was a publication published by the National Wildlife Foundation in November 2012, which estimates that approximately 320 million pounds, or approximately 640,000 tons of pounds , are sent to landfills across the United States every year.
This question is not studied closely every year, so unfortunately the most recent reliable data I could find comes from a source that is now 9 and a half years old. For the purposes of this article, I’m going to assume that the numbers will be higher today simply because the population of the United States has grown from 313,874,000 in 2012 to 331,894,000 in 2021.
Books don’t release toxic chemicals into the ground
Some readers of The Pavlovic Today may recall the 1990s, when audio CDs and DVDs replaced audio cassettes and VHS tapes as the most common medium people used in much of the world to listen to music and watching movies at home. There was a particularly small number of people who attempted to research whether audio cassettes and VHS tapes were recyclable, but for the most part the question of recycling older media was entirely ignored, and many millions of audio cassettes and of VHS tapes ended up in landfills. . Over the past few years we have seen LCD and LED monitors replace CRT monitors, and again, while a small number of people have attempted to set up programs that would allow people to recycle their CRT monitors, the vast majority of CRT monitors ended up in landfills.
Unlike audio tapes and VHS tapes, which are made of plastic, and CRT monitors which contain a number of potentially dangerous chemicals, including lead, books do not contain any potentially toxic chemicals that can leach into groundwater when dumped in landfills.
However, there is another reason why it is potentially very beneficial to encourage municipalities to require the companies with which they contract and which are in charge of household recycling to buy the material necessary for the recycling of books.
Kindles, nooks, and other devices that allow people to read electronic copies of books are becoming more popular every year now. However, the demand for paper products is likely to continue to increase in the years to come.
Deforestation is now occurring on an unprecedented scale, in some countries environmental protection agencies and law enforcement agencies only have the resources to stop a small percentage of the illegal logging that occurs. Illegal logging occurs because sawmills in some countries accept truckloads of logs without verifying where the trees were harvested from, and it is profitable for them to process the logs. While many trees felled today, legally and illegally, are used in the construction industry and for furniture making, a significant percentage of the trees harvested worldwide each year are used for the manufacture of paper products. .
Although there are some types of paper that are not made from basic materials derived from wood, most books in print today are printed on paper made from a mixture of woods from several species. of different trees. Therefore, pulp from recycled book pages can be used in the manufacture of many types of paper products. The more paper products we recycle, the fewer trees will need to be harvested, allowing governments around the world to set aside more land for parks.
I want to emphasize that this is not an entirely perfect solution. The process of pulping paper involves a lot of electricity, and while some recycling companies get their electricity from solar, wind or other clean sources, many recycling companies get their electricity directly from regional grids. , which are still largely powered by coal and other fossil fuels. .
The process of transporting materials to recycling companies involves hauling tons of boxes on commercial trucks, and while some trucks are powered by biofuels, most are powered by conventional diesel fuel that comes directly from petrochemicals.
The paper de-inking and pulping process also involves many chemicals, only some of which are harmless to the environment.
Expanding household recycling programs so that people can include books they no longer wish to keep would be the best solution involving existing technologies. This is far better than the current system in which many tons of books that people no longer want to keep are sent to landfill.
The result of books continuing to be sent to landfills is that more acres of woodland will need to be harvested to meet demands for paper supplies in the decades to come.
Read also: The cost we pay for not recycling all plastics