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A greener way to read– books, eBooks and second hand book stores

Books - second hand not ebooks

Photo: Second Hand Book (Flickr/ Draco2008) Copyright. Creative Commons License.

Every book you buy comes at an environmental cost. The average book published in the UK causes 3kg of CO2 to be released into the atmosphere, and an estimated 13 million books are sent to landfill in the UK alone each year. What are your options for a greener read? Where can you find a sustainable book without the hassle? How sustainable would an E-book be for you? 

Second-hand books – your sustainable option 

There’s nothing quite like a new book: that fresh-paper smell, the clean, crisp and crinkle free pages, the spine untouched and ready to crack (or not) … except, perhaps, for an old book. You’ve got to love the smell of a novel that has been poured over for hours, and the well-worn pages that tell the tale of a story much-enjoyed.

Buying second hand books is a great way to reduce your environmental footprint. It reduces demand for paper production, and  saves old books from heading to landfill. We asked Otter’s friends on social media to share their favourite second hand book stores. Here are their recommendations:

  • Urchin Books, Marrickville, NSW
  • Beyond Q Bookshop, Curtain, ACT (good coffee and a great selection of second hand books)
  • Elizabeth’s Bookshops, Newtown, NSW
  • Alice’s Bookshop, Carlton North, VIC
  • Gleebooks Secondhand Bookshop, Glebe, NSW
  • Gould’s Book Arcade, Newtown, NSW
  • The Little Best Bookshop in Town, Cronulla, NSW
  • Salvation Army St Peters (Tempe Tip), NSW

If you have a favourite second hand book store that isn’t on the list, please share it with us in the comments  below. We’d also love to hear about any charity stores you know of that have a good book selection.

Buying a sustainable book online – how to buy a green book cheaply and conveniently

There is no denying that online book stores make the purchase of books far simpler and a heck of a lot cheaper. The novel you are after can be hunted down with simple click of a ‘search’ button, and book prices are often much lower.  But are there more sustainable alternatives to these cheap and easy online book retailers?

There sure are!

In fact, there are a bunch of second hand online book retailers where you can search for the book you are after. And what’s more, being second hand, chances are these books will be even lighter on your pocket than a new book from an online retailer. Some of these organisations are charities – meaning the money you spend is likely going to a good cause. Here are some of your online options:

  • The Brotherhood of St Lawrence have an online store for their donated books. Funds raised from these book sales go towards their purpose of reducing poverty in Australia. At the time this article was written, the Brotherhood of St Lawrence were offering free delivery when you purchase three or more books from their site. They accept book donations.
  • Better World Books collect and sell books on their online store, using some of the funds raised and books collected to support literacy initiatives worldwide.
  • Oxfam UK have over 60,000 second hand and antique books in their online store, and they ship to Australia. Funds go to the Oxfam UK charity.

A simple search for ‘online second hand book stores’ will come up with a whole heap of other second hand retailers to choose from.

eBook vs new paper book: which is better for the environment? 

There has been quite a lot of debate about how an E-book compares, environmentally, to a standard paper book. According to Lucy Siegle writing in the Guardian, the relative impact of either an eBook or a paper book will depend on how you use your book, and what ethical values you hold at heart. Concerned about the mining of coltan, for example, an E-book may not be for you. Climate Progress present a similar argument. A decision about whether or not to invest in an eBook must take into consideration how you read your books and how often.

New books – when to invest and how to offset 

While we’ve identified the many positives benefits of second hand books above, we konw there are multitudes of wonderful new books published each year, with book sales funding authors and the publishing industry. Our advice is to purchase used books when you can, and indulge and invest in those which are new when you can’t. And if you’ve got a new book that you love, pass it on to friend (maybe donating to a struggling author along the way)! 

There’s also the option of offsetting the carbon impact of your  new book. Eco-libris offer a mix of 41 serious and/or fun  reasons why you should plant a tree for your book. Eco-libris is one of many organisations dedicated to carbon-offsetting new books. Check online for one that suits your needs.

4 Responses to A greener way to read– books, eBooks and second hand book stores

  1. Charlie April 10, 2014 at 12:22 pm #

    Sappho Books on Glebe Pt Road, Sydney is my absolutely favourite second hand bookshop! With a gorgeous little cafe and wine bar out the back, I spend hours here.

  2. Claire April 11, 2014 at 8:20 pm #

    Don’t forget your local library! If you haven’t been for a while you might be pleasantly surprised by how modern many libraries are, a far cry from the dark, stuffy places I remember visiting as a child.

  3. Gordon April 12, 2014 at 2:32 pm #

    @Claire: Excellent point – thanks for contributing.
    @Charlie: Thanks for the suggestion.

  4. Nicola May 11, 2014 at 9:08 pm #

    Interesting article! As a bibliophile, I’ve found it hard to embrace e-books and will always go weak at the knees at the smell of old books.

    Gertrude & Alice is a second hand bookshop in Bondi and a personal fave. With a quality cafe and great coffee this is one of Sydney’s gems.

    Also, Abe Books is another online database that lists second hand books available for direct purchase all around Australia.

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