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Why I Decided to Stop Buying Books

Making sustainable efforts can be rough. Sometimes, it seems like every little thing we do affects our carbon footprint and to some extent, it does. I can easily work myself into a climate anxiety spiral when I think too long about my negative contributions to the environment. So when the new year began, I made a simple and sustainable choice: I am no longer buying books, specifically those sold through major retailers.

This may seem like a small issue, but studies have shown that the average book has a carbon footprint of 2 kg of carbon per kilogram of weight. Something’s carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gases they produce through their creation and distribution. In the case of physical books, the gases needed to produce them have a serious impact on the environment. Book publishing is the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases with the use of pulp and paper. In addition, huge manufacturers like Amazon, which appeals to book consumers (and many others) with free and fast shipping—have increased packaging waste and pollutants with their expedited shipping processes. As cardboard boxes pile up in landfills after international transport, the problem worsen day by day. 

An obvious solution may seem like the use of e-readers like Kindles, which effectively remove the need for paper production and excess waste. However, e-books require the use of electricity and energy to be stored on servers, both of which contribute to the production of carbon. 

Discouraging, right? “Even if we cut down on our book purchases, the online production process still affects our carbon footprints!”

This begs the question, is there really a “green” way to purchase books? The answer is yes!

My decision not to buy books is rooted in an easy alternative: the library! If you’re anything like me, you’re not one to resist the feeling of a physical book in your hands. Thus, the library presents an option where consumers can share books without the heavy carbon footprint that comes with purchasing every book you read. Checking out a book conveys the simplicity of community sharing. 

According to science writer Caroline Ailanthus, “the longer a book lasts and the more people read it, the lower the carbon footprint of reading it gets.” Libraries reinforce this logic by sharing more books with fewer numbers of people. So, the next time you need a book, check out a local library first!

With that being said, libraries don’t always have the book you need and temporary ownership doesn’t cut it for everyone. Luckily, there are several ethical and sustainable companies that provide physical books.

One of my personal favorites is Thriftbooks, a company that only sells secondhand books. This means lower prices for consumers as well as reducing carbon footprints. The company goes the extra mile by profit-sharing with libraries to provide support. If you really need any further convincing, Thriftbooks recycles or donates any books gone unsold and uses 100% recyclable packaging.

Bookshop is another online seller that donates a portion of its profits to local bookstores across the country. You can also utilize a map on their website to find an independent seller in your area, and they will be given the full profit of your order! They’re a great alternative to Amazon if you need a book delivered in two to three days. 

As someone who is still on their sustainability journey, it’s important to take into account that it’s okay to not be 100% eco-conscious all of the time. I’ve definitely fallen victim to buying a book from Barnes & Noble while walking through its aisles, no thanks to Booktok being a fixture in my social media consumption. But I feel that the mantra “progress over perfection” is an apt saying for the sustainability movement— it’s better to put in the effort 30% of the time than 0%. I may fail in meeting my personal goal multiple times, but it’s a win for the planet every time I do accomplish it.

Kelly Ralph is a first-year journalism major at the University of Florida. She is passionate about sustainability and intersectional equality, and a fierce defender of the Oxford comma. When she's not writing or studying, Kelly can be found settled in with a good book or curating her Spotify playlists.
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