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Can books be recycled?

Books have been cherished companions for centuries, offering us escape from our everyday life, as a source of knowledge, and as a tangible link with our past. However, as the world increasingly looks towards sustainability, the disposal of books poses a unique challenge. Despite it seeming to be straightforward to recycle paper, books, with their mix of materials and binding techniques, present a problem when it comes to recycling them.

In this blog post, I'll explore the intricacies of book recycling, and why your favourite reads often find themselves excluded from our recycling bins.

So are books recyclable? Read on to find out why it's not as simple as you might have thought.

Mixed Materials and Bindings:

One of the main obstacles to recycling books lies in their composition. Unlike standard paper, books are made with a variety of materials, including adhesives, cloth, leather and plastic. Hardbacks, for example, are bound with a combination of materials that aren't easily separable. The presence of these mixed materials makes traditional paper recycling processes challenging.

Ink and Coating Challenges:

The ink and coatings used in printing can also complicate the recycling process. Some inks contain heavy metals or other substances that may be harmful if not properly treated. Additionally, glossy or laminated coatings on book covers can be difficult to remove during recycling, further reducing the recyclability of the materials.

Book Spine Woes:

The spine of a book, is usually made with a strong adhesive, and so presents a challenge when it comes to recycling. The adhesive is designed to withstand the wear and tear of reading but this also makes it difficult to separate the spine from the paper during the recycling process.

Size and Format Matters:

You only need to look at the books you and your family own to see the huge variety in the format of books today. It's not just hardback or paperback, today books are printed on a host of different papers such as books illustrated with beautiful full colour photos printed on heavy semi-glossy paper, pop-up books, board books and more. The size and format of books can impact on how recyclable they are. Small, densely bound books may not be efficiently processed by recycling machinery, while oversized or unusually shaped books may not fit into standard recycling bins or equipment.

Volume and Collection Challenges:

Books are often discarded in large quantities, especially during library and school sort outs. This means that managing the sheer volume of books for recycling becomes a huge challenge for waste management and refuse collections, and many end up in landfills due to the lack of specialist recycling services that can deal with books.

So how can we dispose of unwanted books sustainably?

In conclusion, when faced with unwanted books, embracing the principles of reduce, reuse, repurpose, and recycle offers us a range of sustainable solutions. We can reduce our own book purchases by using a library or buying second-hand books from a charity shop or Ebay, ensuring the books we have are reused through selling, sharing or donating them, before repurposing them into creative projects, such as these paper roses which I show you how to make here

and finally, diisposing of them as a last resort when all other options are exhausted. Let's approach the handling of unwanted books with mindfulness and eco-consciousness, ensuring that every page finds a purpose in our lives or beyond.

Paper2pearls is all about giving tattered books a new life as beautiful and unique pieces of jewellery which link the wearer to a book that has a special place in their heart.

You may also be interested in my previous blog, book lover or book murderer?

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