Dos and Don’ts of Sustainable Reading

If you are a person living on the planet, you should be concerned about the climate crisis. And while there are many debates on corporate and government action vs personal responsibility, the fact is individual choices can make a difference. And before I get too far into this I need to emphasize that those of us in countries like the U.S. and the U.K. have a greater responsibility for taking individual action than say, those living in the global South who have low carbon footprints but experience the effects of climate change with a far greater magnitude.

However, I am not here to soapbox about climate change. What I am here to do is talk to those who are concerned and want to do something about the climate crisis, and who are also readers. Because although we might not like it, reading has an impact on the environment just like everything else. So today I am here to share with you some Dos and Don’ts of sustainable reading.

I am by no means an expert on this topic, these are just things that I have found while investigating what in my own life I can do for the climate crisis. If this is something that interests you, I highly recommend checking out Leena Norms. She is a YouTuber who makes video about books, the climate crisis, and sometimes both at the same time.

Do: borrow or buy secondhand

One of the most sustainable things we can do is to make sure books are read more than once. This can include borrowing books from a library or from friends, or purchasing books secondhand rather than new. The best places to buy secondhand books are from sellers in your community. If you buy from somewhere close to you, that means the carbon cost of getting the books from the store and into your hands is much lower than if you have it shipped from across the country. Library books are even better, because that usually means dozens of readers will be utilizing the same book. However, if you don’t have any libraries or secondhand bookstores near you, some places you can buy secondhand books online include Thrift Books, Better World Books, and Powell’s (just make sure to select the used option!). For more ideas on where to get books secondhand, you can check out my post on unconventional places to get books.

Do: loan or donate books to others

Another way to ensure that the books you purchase are read multiple times is to loan or donate them. If you want to keep the book on your shelf (especially if you are going to reread it later), you can still temporarily loan them out to friends, family, or even acquaintances whom you trust will return it. If you are done with a book, you can hand it off to a friend while encouraging them to pass it on to someone else when they’re done. If you don’t know anyone in your immediate circle who is interested in the book in question, you can always donate it to a little free library, a public library, or a used bookstore near you (sometimes they even give you credit to buy more used books!).

Don’t: return books

I am guessing that my audience is not composed of people who usually return books, but the fact remains. Returning books means there are additional carbon emissions involved in the return process. This is true in general, but especially if it was shipped to you, because then it also has to be shipped back. It is a huge increase in carbon emissions.

Do: preorder books

This might come as a surprise after all my lauding of buying secondhand, but preordering books can actually be a good thing. Let’s be real, for the die hard book lovers among us, we aren’t just going to stop reading new books. And those are very hard to find secondhand. But if you know you want to read a new book, preordering it will help the publishers determine how many books they should be printing, so they aren’t wasting paper by over-printing anything.

Don’t: buy a new e-reader

This one is a little more complicated than the title suggests, but I needed to be concise. On the surface, e-readers appear to be a more sustainable alternative to paper books. However, the carbon emissions associated with the production of one e-reader is significantly higher than that of one book. I was unable to find numbers that all agreed with each other, but suffice to say you need to be reading a few dozen books a year on an e-reader that you otherwise would have purchased in order to offset the carbon emissions. There are many people who do that (my mom, for one. I couldn’t even tell you how many books she reads on her kindle), but if you aren’t one of those people (for example, if you read very few books a year to start with), then an e-reader would not be the most sustainable option for you.

However, there is also an operative word in that phrase: new. If you have an e-reader already, you should definitely continue to use it! After all, using it over physical books is the way you will offset the carbon emissions of its production. However, if you want to be more sustainable, you should truly use it until it can’t be used anymore rather than springing for a new upgrade. If you are looking for a new e-reader, you can also consider purchasing a used one rather than a new one. And to combine those two points, if you are looking to ditch your e-reader for any reason and it is still working, consider giving or selling it to someone else who will use it!

Do: read from your physical TBR

And finally, one of the best things you can do is to read the books you already own! If you have physical books that you own but haven’t read (and come on, I know you do), you can always read one of those instead of buying a new book. And if you aren’t going to read them, maybe you can give them to someone else who will.

An image of blue flowers on a white background.

Thank you so much for reading! I hope you enjoyed this slightly different look at reading habits. Whether you are a beginner or a seasoned pro when it comes to sustainable living, it is important to remember that absolutely no one is perfect! We will all make mistakes, but it’s all about doing what we are able to do to make the world a better place.

Do you already practice any of these habits? Or will you be making changes to do more of them? Do you have any sustainable reading tips I didn’t mention here? Please leave a comment below, I would love to hear from you. Until next time, happy reading!

6 thoughts on “Dos and Don’ts of Sustainable Reading

  1. Goodness, I totally agree! I feel like being a book blogger on any platform is also super about consumerism, because the amount of books people buy “to have a library” and then never pick up for years and years? I don’t get it. And I wish more people utilised their libraries, honestly.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Exactly! Don’t get me wrong, I love buying and having books, but I am not always reading all the books on my shelf, so it makes sense to loan them out and share them when I can. And buying books just to have books and not actually reading them doesn’t make any sense to me

      Liked by 1 person

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