Firemen burn books in Ray Bradbury’s science fiction classic “Fahrenheit 451.” This aspect of the futuristic setting was a bit alarming when I read it years ago. I can only imagine a house being burned to the ground because the owner illegally had a library or even a few volumes. Today, when people are done with a book I’d say setting it on fire would be their last thought.
Bradbury’s title is in reference to the temperature at which books burn. At the Keep Alliance Beautiful recycling center we process used books at about 72 degrees.
A few weeks after I began working at the recycling center this summer we received a load of books from the Hemingford Public Library. Our instructions were simple: paperbacks go in the magazine bin; remove hardcovers and place the innards in the same place. The covers are placed with the paperboard, or fiber as we call it.
I admit, that first day, I was a bit emotional about processing what were still perfectly good books. G.O. Thompson, who manages the recycling center, encouraged us to take whatever we wanted home. Over the next few days I found a box and squirreled away a range of books on religion, science and some I thought would make good reads in the future. My daughter likes science, so I snagged a thick anatomy volume. Other choices I picked up because the subject just seemed unique. One example was a small paperback copyrighted in the 1950s. This book chronicled the best boxers ever to enter the ring. The athletes described inside were men I had never heard of for the most part.
From that first batch I winnowed out another stack. These books were ones I thought other people would enjoy reading. I took it upon myself to donate a couple boxes to the Mission Store a few blocks away. Their shelves feature an interesting collection of fiction, nonfiction and children’s books. I hope the books I selected made it to their display and have already been purchased and read by the store’s patrons.
Libraries are always adding new materials to their shelves. Patrons appreciate finding a hot book club selection or bestseller. However, space is precious. Many old books in circulation for years at the Alliance Public Library end up in the basement bound for the Friends of the Library book sale or the library’s used book store. People even buy books in bulk to upcycle and turn into creative crafts.
Not every library has an outlet to resell books. In this case recycling is an admirable option. Of what I have seen in my relatively short time with KAB has included pages that look like new and may have been checked out only a few times. Many of the covers feature labels of donors’ names. I like to wonder who these people are and how they support reading. Who turned the pages is another thing that comes to mind.
Area residents drop off their own books from time to time. Most are decades old with a wealth of information. I noticed a small cache of Boy Scout merit badge books and manuels the other day. A set of reference books nearly a century old found their way into the bin lately. The data covers a wide range of topics, is still relevant and would take hours to find online.
Alliance Public Schools visits the recycling center several times most days with items including cardboard and white paper. At the start of the school year KAB received large bins of used textbooks from APS. New curriculum has made them obsolete. Still like new, it takes a little practice to efficiently remove the hard covers.
As with anything recycled, I like to ponder the new life of books. We send our paper products to a company in Ogallala, which in turn markets the materials to other facilities. Books fall under “mixed paper” handled by Amerian paper mills. Pulper machines break the paper into fibers by adding water and chemicals. According to Earth911.com, the fibers are smaller than cardboard or office paper and are recycled into products like coffee filters, egg cartons and paper towels.
When reducing your home book collection think about the environmental benefits of recycling. A third of new paper pulp is from recycling instead of trees and wood chips. A tree equals about 25 books. The website www.usi.edu notes a ton of paper recycled saves three cubic yards of landfill space, 380 gallons of oil, 17 trees, 4,000 kilowatts of electricity and 7,000 gallons of water.