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  • Chloe Page

Are Books Bad For The Environment?

Pile of various open books in the sunlight.
Photo by Rey Seven on Unsplash

If you’re reading this, chances are that you love books. Whether you’re a modernist or a traditionalist, you love devouring stories and escaping for a bit. Digital and paper books are both popular pastimes - but are they bad for the environment? How do we minimise our environmental impact while still finding new books to read? I’m here to help you rifle through the facts.

Let’s Talk Paper Books

Ah, we all love that paper book smell and the comforting weight of one in our hands as we read. But are books bad for the environment? Books have quite a carbon footprint; unfortunately, most of their footprint is out of our hands as consumers. The creation of a physical book contributes to deforestation, which is a highly serious global issue. It is estimated that the UK publishing industry goes through 15 million trees worth of paper each year. Not only that, but 50 percent of a book’s carbon footprint comes from pulp and paper production, as well as heating and bleaching the paper. The UK publishing industry is taking steps to change its processes with the environment in mind, but we have little control over this.

Some other factors that affect a book’s carbon footprint before it reaches your hands include:

  • The size of the book

  • The number of pages it has

  • The type of paper used - book paper typically comes in either raw, rummage, bleached, recycled, or certified paper.

  • The type of print - books often come in either black and white or colour.

  • The finish - is the finish matte or glossy?

  • Whether it has illustrations

  • How it is distributed to consumers

Unless the publishing industry changes its practices by following the Publishing Declares, we can do very little about this. However, we do have control over how we buy and get rid of books.

An across the street photo of Armchair Books bookshop. It has a red brick and green painted exterior with a red sign and white text. Four windows can be seen displaying rows of books.
Photo by Florencia Viadana on Unsplash

A Brief Guide To Eco-Conscious Book Acquisition

When finding a new book, you can choose to follow a more eco-conscious route to feed your reading habits. Alongside trying to find recycled paper editions, and walking or cycling to pick them up, you can find your next fave read by looking in the following places.

Your Local Independent Bookshop

We love independent bookshops! Buying locally is better than ordering new books online, plus you get to support local small businesses - it’s a win-win.

Secondhand Shops

The more a book is read, the smaller its footprint. Try hunting in your local secondhand bookshops to find your next treasure.

Ebay/Vinted/Depop/Facebook Marketplace

If it’s difficult to get to the nearest retailer or you can’t find what you want, online marketplaces are a goldmine for books.

The Library

Libraries are the best! It is always a good idea to head to the library - you can even order ones that aren’t in stock without paying a penny.

Buy Nothing Groups

Online communities have been growing on Facebook and other sites that promote waste reduction. Joining one of these groups in your local area and asking if you can borrow from your neighbours could open up new possibilities while fostering friendships.

Free Book Boxes

Over the pandemic, we all longed for a sense of community while trying to keep each other safe. In apartment buildings, parks, and other local public spaces, people began to set up book boxes and free book libraries. Finding one of these on a walk immediately brightens my day.

Borrow From A Friend

We love this option - you form a book club and have someone to chat to about it once you’re done.

Your TBR List

You hate to see it, but it may be time to tackle your TBR list. Try thinking of it as your own personal library - you don’t even have to spend any money or travel to use it.

A green bin on wheels sits on a side street. Spray painted white text reads 'Think before your speak. Read before you think.'. A row of books lines the top of the bin.
Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

Saying Goodbye To Books Without Harming The Planet

We get it, not everyone dreams of having a big library with a ladder on wheels like Belle. If you find yourself needing to downsize your book collection, there are a few ways you can avoid sending it to landfills.


Give those dusty tomes a second life by donating them. You can choose to take them to your local charity shop, secondhand shop, or community centre on your next errand run.

Give It As A Gift

Books always make excellent gifts. If you have some gems that a loved one might be interested in, giving them as a gift is a thoughtful method.

Do A Giveaway

This one goes out to the social media stars! Doing a book giveaway is a common technique to increase your online presence and help the planet at the same time.

Make Art From It

While some may gasp and clutch their pearls at this suggestion, making art from books is a great way to breathe new life into them. Get crafty by using pieces in paintings, scrapbooks, and bullet journals for an aesthetic literary touch.


Recycling books can be a little tricky; some councils or companies may not accept books as the binding glue is not always recyclable. Read your local guidelines carefully or research book recycling programs to see what works best for you.

A black e-reader displays a white page with typed text. It lies on a wooden table next to a white mug.
Photo by Felipe Pelaquim on Unsplash

Let’s Talk E-Readers

E-readers don’t require paper but do require production and power to function. Estimates vary but some experts put a Kindle-style e-reader’s footprint at 14kgCO2eq in three years; 95 percent of this is due to the production of circuit boards, chargers, and screens. If you are a minimalist who loves e-readers, the main ways you can minimise this footprint is by doing the following.

Getting an e-reader secondhand

If we can prevent e-readers from ending up in landfills, then it’s a win for the planet. Find one on eBay or in secondhand stores like Cex. Once you have one for a good price, take care of it; see if you can repair it if necessary by following Youtube tutorials.

Use an eco-energy provider

One of the biggest moves you can make to reduce your footprint is to change energy providers. This is a little tricky in the wake of the current energy crisis; if you can move, try using Bulb, Octopus, or a similar eco-energy company to power your home and e-reader.

Put The E-Reader Through Its Paces

The more something is used, the better. It is estimated that replacing at least nine physical books with an e-reader can help balance the carbon footprint scales. Therefore, if you have an e-reader you have our permission to be a book-guzzling fiend!

Which Book Style Is Best For Me?

Overall, we would suggest that your reading habits play a major role in which route is best for you. Occasional readers would benefit more from being borrowers rather than buyers. Folks who read five or more books a year could benefit most from e-readers. However, making the most of what you have is always a good start.

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