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What To Do with Old Textbooks

Ever looked at your bookshelf, overflowing with textbooks from previous semesters or years, and wondered, “What should I do with all these?” Well, it’s a question that needs a thoughtful and environmentally responsible answer.

As someone who has navigated this dilemma more times than I can count, I can tell you that old textbooks are not just dust gatherers; they can serve a multitude of purposes if managed correctly.

tl;dr: Old textbooks should be reused, donated, sold, or recycled responsibly to prevent unnecessary environmental harm and even to help others. The effective management of old textbooks not only declutters your space but also contributes to reducing waste and supporting education in underprivileged communities.

The Sustainability Issue of Old Textbooks

Textbooks, often used for a semester or two, can seem irrelevant once the course is complete. However, their disposal is a pressing environmental concern. The US Environmental Protection Agency estimated in 2018 that about 37% of the total waste was paper, including books. If not correctly managed, textbooks can end up contributing to the waste problem significantly.

The lifespan of textbooks, in my experience, typically depends on the subject and how quickly the information within becomes outdated. Some books remain relevant for years, while others become ‘old’ soon after a course ends.

The Evolution of Textbooks in Education

The textbook’s role in education has evolved over the years. From being the primary source of knowledge, textbooks now often supplement digital learning platforms.

While digital textbooks are becoming prevalent, many learners and educators still prefer physical books for their tangibility and the learning experience they offer.

Common Mistakes in Dealing with Old Textbooks

The common mistake most people make, including myself in the past, is treating old textbooks as trash. The misconception that they’re no longer of any value leads to irresponsible disposal.

Similarly, hoarding old textbooks unnecessarily can create clutter and hinder their potential use by someone else.

Evaluating the Condition of Old Textbooks

Before deciding what to do with old textbooks, it’s crucial to evaluate their condition. Check if the pages are intact, if there are any markings or notes, and if the information is current.

This appraisal will help determine the textbook’s future – whether it’s worth keeping, can be sold or donated, or should be recycled.

Practical Ways to Reuse Old Textbooks

If the textbooks are in good condition but aren’t needed anymore, consider these creative uses:

  • DIY projects: Old textbooks can be turned into interesting craft projects like origami, scrapbooks, and more.
  • Home decor: You can use textbooks to create unique decorations, like a vintage bookshelf display.
  • Educational uses: Old textbooks can also be used for tutoring, reference, or even as a tool for teaching children about recycling.

Selling or Donating Old Textbooks

One man’s trash can indeed be another man’s treasure. Selling your old textbooks can not only earn you some money but also help someone else in their educational journey. Platforms like Amazon, Chegg, and eBay are popular for selling used books.

On the other hand, numerous organizations accept textbook donations. Donating your old textbooks to local schools, libraries, or non-profit organizations can help provide resources for underprivileged students. Additionally, organizing a textbook drive in your community can have a substantial impact.

Organization Location Description Contact Information
Better World Books Global Collects and sells books online to fund literacy initiatives worldwide. Website
Books For Africa Global Aims to end the book famine in Africa. Website
Books To Prisoners U.S. Sends free books to prisoners across the United States. Website
The Book Fairies U.S. (New York) Donates reading materials to organizations that lack them. Website
Project Gutenberg Global Digitalizes books that are in the public domain. Website
Reader To Reader U.S. Dedicated to increasing literacy and fostering a love of reading at all ages. Website
International Book Project Global Sends books to schools, libraries, churches, and Peace Corps volunteers throughout the developing world and in the United States. Website

Recycling Old Textbooks

When textbooks are beyond usability, recycling is the way to go. Companies like Better World Books and Recycle Your Textbooks specialize in textbook recycling. Ensure that the recycling process is environmentally friendly and does not contribute to landfill waste.

Benefits of Properly Managing Old Textbooks

Managing old textbooks responsibly comes with a tri-fold benefit – environmental, financial, and educational. It helps reduce waste, provides a potential source of income, and can contribute to someone else’s learning journey.

Tips for Effective Management of Old Textbooks

  • Regular maintenance: A well-maintained textbook has a higher usability lifespan.
  • Wise purchasing: Consider the longevity of the textbook’s relevance before purchasing. Opting for second-hand books or digital versions can be a more sustainable choice.

The Sustainable Alternatives

Thanks to the rise of the digital age, the education system has pivoted to using tablets and laptops, here are a few other alternatives that textbooks are being cut down:

The Rise of Digital Textbooks

As we become more conscious of the environmental impact of traditional textbook production and disposal, it might be worthwhile to consider the rise of digital textbooks. Studies suggest that digital textbooks can significantly lower the carbon footprint as compared to printed ones, given the lack of physical resources needed for their creation and distribution.

Many academic institutions and publishers have started offering digital versions of their textbooks, reducing the need for physical copies. They offer the same information without the environmental impact, making them an increasingly popular choice for sustainable learning.

The Role of Libraries

Libraries play a significant role in textbook recycling. Libraries often accept donations of old textbooks and add relevant ones to their collections. This not only extends the life of a book but also makes it accessible to many more readers. Therefore, consider your local library as a potential home for your old textbooks.

Reducing Textbook Consumption

A useful suggestion would be to consider whether a textbook purchase is necessary in the first place. Often, students feel compelled to buy textbooks for their courses, only to find that they rarely use them.

Consider alternatives such as borrowing from a library, sharing with a classmate, or using digital resources. Some universities have textbook rental programs, which can be a more sustainable and economical choice.


In conclusion, old textbooks can have an afterlife beyond your bookshelf. They can be reused creatively, sold or donated, or recycled responsibly. Your decision can have a broader impact, from environmental benefits to contributing to someone else’s education. So next time you come across an old textbook, remember, it’s not the end of its story, just the beginning of a new chapter.

Note: Don’t forget to research local regulations and facilities for textbook recycling or donation.


Are there any environmental-friendly companies that recycle old textbooks?

Indeed, there are companies dedicated to recycling textbooks in an environmentally friendly manner. I would recommend organizations like Better World Books and Recycle Your Textbooks, which have shown commitment towards sustainable textbook management.

Can I earn a substantial amount by selling old textbooks?

Earning potential from selling old textbooks can vary based on factors such as the book’s condition, its demand, and the platform you choose to sell on. As per my experience, though it may not constitute a significant income source, it can certainly provide a financial incentive for proper textbook management.

I want to donate my old textbooks. Which organizations should I consider?

There are numerous organizations that accept textbook donations. Some well-known ones include Books for Africa, Goodwill, and The Salvation Army. Local schools, libraries, and community centers might also welcome these contributions. Before donating, however, I would advise confirming whether they accept old textbooks and what their requirements are.

Can all old textbooks be recycled?

Most textbooks can be recycled. However, books with mold, mildew, or those that are wet may not be accepted by recycling programs. Additionally, some textbooks with metallic or plastic components may require separate processing. It would be worthwhile to contact your local recycling center for specific information.

I have a large collection of very old textbooks. What should I do with them?

Very old textbooks, especially those in good condition, can be valuable to collectors or specialized libraries. Consider reaching out to local universities or antique book dealers. If they don’t hold any monetary or historic value, recycling would be the best option.

So, there you have it – my comprehensive guide on what to do with old textbooks. I hope this helps in your quest to declutter responsibly, and remember, your actions can make a significant difference in supporting sustainability and education.


  • Jen Wheeler

    Jen Wheeler, co-founder of Recycling-Revolution.com, holds degrees from UC Berkeley, Yale, and Stanford. A renowned environmentalist, she's championed sustainable practices at global events and leads EcoBright Solutions, focusing on recycling education and eco-friendly products.

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