National Wildlife Federation Releases Final Report on Textbook Recycling in America

Lauren Williams's picture
Thursday, January 10, 2013

Almost 40 percent of K-12 and higher education schools are storing or throwing away textbooks that are dated, damaged or have otherwise reached the end of their productive life, leaving significant potential to increase book recycling programs across the country, according to a new study by the National Wildlife Federation.

The report concludes more education about the benefits of textbook recycling is needed to help schools identify options for recycling of unused textbooks.  While the report highlights a number of pilot textbook recycling programs being conducted by higher education institutions such as the University of Wyoming, Columbia College, and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, there are few K-12 school districts participating in similar efforts.

The positive news is that when books are recycled, the recovered fiber is being put to good re-use – generally in tissue, cardboard, linerboard, boxboard, or insulation, thereby saving virgin resources.  The bad news is that not enough books are currently being recycled; however, this is a situation that can be changed – given enough incentive, education, and implementation of proven methods of disposal and processing.

 National Wildlife Federation, McGraw-Hill, and NewPage Corporation entered into a collaborative project to study textbook recycling in the United States, pilot a recycling project, and develop best practices to increase textbook recycling.  This report, “ A Research Study on Textbook Recycling in America:  Recommendations for Proper Disposal and Repurposing at the End of a Textbook’s Useful Life,” is based primarily on what currently happens to textbooks at the end of their useful life.  While the original assumption was that recycling books would be relatively easy, the research indicates that it requires discipline, structure, organization, and an outlet and method for disposal and processing of books.  Importantly, the report also states that educating the public about the recyclability of books would have a positive effect on changing behavior.  The impetus for conducting this research and pilot project was to support McGraw-Hill’s sustainability commitment, NewPage Corporation’s desire to increase recovered fiber in the U.S., and National Wildlife Federation’s environmental education and sustainability programs, Eco- Schools USA and Campus Ecology

The intent of the report is to highlight the lifecycle of textbooks, from production through disposal, and to provide needed information and recommendations to various interested sectors on how they might establish a textbook recycling program at their school, university, or in their community.  The report was peer reviewed by industry leaders in book publishing, book manufacturing, paper manufacturing, and recycling. 

The full report and additional resources and information may be found at www.nwf.org/textbookrecycling.

 “This innovative textbook recycling program was a natural fit with National Wildlife Federation’s work to promote business and educational practices that are healthy for our environment,” said Kevin Coyle, NWF’s vice president of Education and Training. “It also aligns with our work on sustainably procured paper, which in part relies on an increased supply of recovered fiber.  The best practices that were an outcome of this project will be shared with our K-12 schools through NWF’s Eco-Schools USA program and with higher education institutions through our Campus Ecology program.”

McGraw-Hill has instituted a number of green practices at its distribution centers, including recycling a majority of the paper recovered from old textbooks. NWF’s new program will focus on helping individual students, schools and organizations recycle hardcover books that are outdated or otherwise unsuitable for reuse.

According to Brian Kozlowski, Director, Sustainable Development, NewPage Corporation, “The project team identified a number of barriers that currently impede textbook recycling as well as a number of opportunities that can materially increase the recovery and recycling of textbooks at the end of their useful life.”  

Founded in 1888, The McGraw-Hill Companies is a leading global financial information and education company that powers the Knowledge Economy. Well-known brands include Standard & Poor’s, McGraw-Hill Education, Platts and J.D. Power and Associates. To learn more, visit www.mcgraw-hill.com.

NewPage is the leading producer of printing and specialty papers in North America with $3.5 billion in net sales for the year ended December 31, 2011. NewPage is headquartered in Miamisburg, Ohio, and owns paper mills in Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. These mills have a total annual production capacity of approximately 3.5 million tons of paper.

The company’s product portfolio is the broadest in North America and includes coated, specialty, supercalendered and uncoated papers. These papers are used in commercial printing to create corporate collateral, magazines, catalogs, books, coupons, inserts and direct mail as well as in specialty paper applications including beverage bottle labels, food and medical packaging, pressure-sensitive labels and release liners.

Since its formation in 1936, National Wildlife Federation has worked with affiliates across the country to inspire Americans to protect wildlife for future generations. NWF seeks to engage and educate its 4 million members, partners and supporters with a focus on restoring habitat, confronting global warming and connecting people with nature. To learn more about NWF’s environmental education programs, visit the Eco-Schools USA and Campus Ecology web pages.