LAKEWOOD, Wash. — A faded and worn 15th edition Encyclopedia Britannica arrives at a warehouse in a large brown box filled with hundreds of other books.
These are the leftovers — unwanted books discarded by their owners. They’re about to undergo a careful examination that will determine their fate.
Discover Books, a Lakewood, Wash. based company, has found an unusual niche within the book business.
“We have a motto, the three Rs: resale, redistribute and recycle,” says Tyler Hincey, director of marketing and manager of the facility.
The process begins as books are tossed into collection bins across the state and trucked to the Lakewood processing plant. Collection bins can be found at thrift stores, schools and libraries. Once at the plant employees will use scanners to determine each book’s value. This helps them decide whether a book should be donated, resold or recycled.
The company partners with booksellers like Amazon, which buys used books that have resale value, and Safeway, which takes donated books and sells them at extremely discounted prices and gives the proceeds to charity.
“If we can’t resell the book or donate it, the last resort is to recycle it,” Hincey says.
And this is exactly what happened to the encyclopedia. Its value was too low to re-sell. So it was shipped off to a recycling facility — where it will be chopped up into small chunks and ultimately made into newspaper, toilet paper, and house insulation.
In terms of the environment, the worst place for a book to end up is the landfill. And in fact, a surprising number of books still do because many paper recycling facilities can’t process the the glue that binds book spines. So if books are put out with the curbside recycling, there’s a good chance they will eventually wind up in a landfill.
Even if books do end up in a book recycling facility, there are still downsides, Hincey says.
Recycling paper takes a significant amount of water and energy. Officials at Discover Books estimate that in their eight years of re-selling and donating books, they’ve saved enough water to fill 826 Olympic-sized swimming pools and enough energy to power the entire Empire State building for six years.
Since the company started, they’ve extended the life of an estimated six million books by donating them to nonprofits throughout the United States.
With two billion books published each year, Michael Ricci, the CEO of Discover Books, says the need to conserve has never been greater.
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