The Environmental Benefits of Buying Used Books

“The goal of life is living in agreement with nature.” - Zeno ~ 450 BC (from Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers)

With the topic of environmentalism at the forefront of society’s mind, many of us are beginning to look at our everyday habits more critically. Compared to even as recently as ten years ago, in 2020, society is increasingly aware of how small, simple changes can add up to significant environmental benefits. From reducing our use of single use plastic, to opting to cycle instead of driving, to reducing meat intake, there are hundreds of ways in which we can live a more carbon neutral lifestyle.

But how does this apply to books?

The environmental cost of producing books is huge. The newspaper and book publishing industries consume 153 billion gallons of water each year, with each book consuming an average of two kilowatt hours of fossil fuels and approximately 7.5 kilograms of carbon dioxide. What’s worse, if a book reaches the landfill, its decomposition generates double the global warming emissions and toxic impacts on local water systems as its manufacture.

Combining this with an estimated 320 million (640,000 tonnes) being sent to the landfill each and every year, a bleak picture is painted of the environmental impact of buying new books.

So, as book lovers, what can we do to help?

There are multiple options. E-readers have exploded in popularity in the last few years, with production of an e-reader equating to somewhere around 40-50 new print books. This means that, if a reader was to read in excess of this figure, their carbon footprint could be less using an e-reader compared to buying new physical copies of the same titles.

But what about the books currently in circulation?

E-readers are terrible news for the trillions of books currently in circulation. If, hypothetically, every reader was to move over to an e-reader exclusively, the surplus of supply to demand for physical books would result in colossal wastage and huge negative environmental impact. Adding this to the carbon footprint of producing the e-reader in the first place, it becomes clear that e-readers are perhaps not the most environmentally beneficial solution.

Buying Used Books

Fortunately, there is a solution: used books.

Opting for a used books over a new book results in less than one fifth of the carbon emissions. By buying used, you are making a choice which is actively preventing the same books going to landfill, ergo avoiding the colossal environmental impact as described above. These books still have great stories to tell, and whilst we are unable to undo the emissions from their initial production, we can ensure a carbon neutral future by keeping them from needlessly going to waste.

There is also the added benefit of used books being far more affordable than buying new. With a new book costing on average £7.48 in the UK, substantial savings can be found by opting for the used equivalent. So, not only is buying used much better for the environment, but it is also far better for your wallet too!

All in all, buying used books is a sustainable method of consumption. And whilst the titles are often not pristine, there is certainly something of a romanticism in knowing that the book you’re holding has been thoroughly enjoyed by those before you, and will hopefully be enjoyed by whoever you pass it to next.

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