Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 32
Wednesday, August 10, 2011
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Saving the Environment, Promoting Literacy, Recycled Books Are a Win-Win Commodity

Ellen Gilbert

“Everybody wins,” proclaims booksalefinder.com, describing the happy outcome of used book sales. Several Princeton area efforts testify to that idea.

“When you buy used books, you don’t just help keep them out of landfills; you also help preserve our natural resources,” noted Trenton-based Classics bookstore owner Eric Maywar. “It is estimated that 24 trees are needed to produce one ton of virgin printing paper. About 54.3 million tons of paper and paper fill American landfills every year; among those tons of papers are countless libraries’ worth of books that could be kept in circulation, instead of weighing down our waste infrastructure.”

Visitors to the Princeton Public Library can take daily advantage of the award-winning bookstore for “readers of all ages and interests” that greets them as they enter the library. For an annual feast of books, the library’s weekend-long used book sale in the fall is eagerly anticipated by many. This year’s event, which will occur from October 21 through 23, marks the 50th anniversary of the book sale’s sponsor, the Friends of the Library.

While it isn’t at all clear that it was deliberate, another annual local tradition, the Bryn Mawr-Wellesley Book Sale, is well-timed with respect to the Library’s autumn event: it occurs each year in March. Potential donors to both book sales are encouraged to call or visit websites on both events for details on drop-off, and which books or media are and are not acceptable.

Another environmentally-aware approach is Labyrinth Book’s “Carbon-Neutral Books” program. In cooperation with carbonfund.org, Labyrinth, which sells both new and used books, asks customers for an additional five cents. The bookstore matches each donation with five cents of its own in an effort to “reduce the climate impact from greenhouse gases.”

“The carbon footprint is a measure of the impact human activities have on the environment in terms of the amount of green house gases produced,” the Carbonfund explains. “Ten cents per book is a little more than it takes to neutralize the foot-print of one book.” Unlike many fund-raising operations that lose money to overhead costs, Labyrinth reports that “100 percent of the money collected goes to the support of renewable energy, energy efficiency, and reforestation projects that reduce and offset CO2 emissions.”

Another model of recycling ingenuity is TerraCycle. With reuse centers in both Princeton and Trenton, the company provides free waste collection programs for hard to recycle materials, turning the waste into affordable green products.

For inspiration at the international level, BetterWorldbooks.com is committed to “social and political freedom through literacy,” saving the environment, and saving money. In addition to recycling over 70 million pounds of books to date, BetterWorld reports that it raised over $9.4 million for literacy, including $5.2 million for over 80 literacy and education nonprofit organizations, and $4.2 million for libraries nationwide.

Numbers talk; Mr. Maywar offers a few others. Citing ScienceDirect — Research in Social Stratification and Mobility: Family Scholarly Culture and Education, he reports that “only 40 percent of children from bookless homes with unschooled parents can be expected to finish Year 9 of school, compared to 88 percent of children with unschooled but book-rich parents — a 48 percentage point advantage.”

“Not only are used bookstores already a fraction of the cost of new bookstores to maintain, some of them provide books for free for local kids,” said Mr. Maywar, whose bookstore regularly gives away books to children in the community. “You don’t get lower-cost than that.”

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