Read More, Consume Less

January 10, 2008

This interesting blog entry asks “Could your reading appetite be causing greenhouse emissions and the degradation of our forests?” and gives some interesting stats:

  • The paper industry is the largest consumer of forests in the Southern US, currently logging an estimated 5 million acres of forests (an area the size of New Jersey) each year. (USFS SFRA, 2001)
    Over 40% of the trees cut in British Columbia are used to produce paper (Markets Initiative, 2001)

  • One out of eight animal species in BC is at risk of extinction, according to the BC Ministry of Environment. Logging was identified as one of the primary contributing causes (BC Ministry of Environment, State of the Environment Report 2000).
  • Most of the worldโ€™s paper supply, about 71 percent, is not made from timber harvested at tree farms but from forest-harvested timber, from regions with ecologically valuable, biologically diverse habitat. (Toward a Sustainable Paper Cycle: An Independent Study on the Sustainability of the Pulp and Paper Industry, 1996)
  • The pulp and paper industry is the single largest consumer of water used in industrial activities in OECD countries and is the third greatest industrial greenhouse gas emitter, after the chemical and steel industries (OECD Environmental Outlook, p. 218)
  • 35 Responses to “Read More, Consume Less”

    1. kirk said

      I’d take that with a grain of salt, at least the last one about greenhouse gas. Agriculture is way above any other industry, I believe, if only from methane emitted by cows and other livestock (I read an article recently that said cows were responsible for 14% of greenhouse gas emissions, though how true it is I don’t know.)


    2. Oleg said

      The moral of the story is this: don’t buy new books, get used ones! ๐Ÿ™‚

    3. Thanks John for posting my article, by the way.

      Kirk, these statistics are from Co-op America, as cited in my article, based upon documentation. They are not made up numbers.

      My article is not debating who produces the most greenhouse gases but ask readers to think about the amount of trees being cut down in the name of paper production. Old trees hold more carbon than new trees trees and when you cut down either, the carbon is release into the air. (My source is cited in the article.) In addition to produce books takes energy as well. Why would you need to buy books that are already in print? I think what BookMooch is doing is a wonderful thing for our enviroment and literacy as well.

      For those who question that swapping books benefit our enviroment, just think of it as less clutter around your home. Either way, it is a good reason to swap. Anna

    4. Mitzy said

      “Paper derived from virgin wood pulp carries a double environmental burden. Deforestation and indiscriminate logging damage ecosystems and the man-made environment by increasing erosion, silting and flooding. In processing, companies bleach paper products with chlorine or chlorine derivatives to maintain the white paper we’ve all come to expect. Chlorine is used to bleach the wood pulp for making paper. Chlorine, in fact, is one of the most commonly manufactured chemicals in the United States and its product, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is a plastic like no other. PVC is a health hazard to manufacture and handle. It canโ€™t be disposed or even recycled! The Association of Post Consumer Plastics Recyclers declared efforts to recycle PVC a failure and labeled it a contaminant in 1998. From an environmental perspective the toxins that are created during the production of PVC, specifically dioxin, have been known to cause severe damage to oneโ€™s health: cancer, birth defects, and endocrine disorders.”

      I know that chlorine has led to the near extinction of many species as well.

    5. Amtep said

      I note the conflation of “books” and “the paper industry”. What percentage of printed paper is used for books? I would guess very low, with most of it used for magazines, newspapers, junk mail, and office supplies.

    6. rachelsmdai said

      What’s the quibble – we all need to reduce our negative impact on planet earth. Yes, trading books instead of insisting on the newest, most pristine, personal copy, will help. The fact that other things destroy the earth does not diminish the fact that every little bit counts. And, I believe, we must remember to look for the bigger impacts as well — but don’t forget the littler ones.

    7. Erin C said

      It’s a good thing you started Bookmooch John, all these books being recycled…..
      I do believe we humans over use/abuse our planet I have changed my energy uses in many ways but will not sacrifice books. Besides paper is wasted in so many other ways not by just making books.

    8. Jackie N. said

      I love recycling books (or anything I can recycle). (That PVC plastic information is startling!) If I buy any books, it’s only used ones since joining Bookmooch. I’ve mooched way more books than I can read myself, so I’ve been donating them to family members and friends, hoping to lure them away from their TV screens. Now I suppose I should start donating them to prisons, senior centers, and schools.

    9. miketually said

      The carbon in the paper is trapped for as long as the book is in circulation, so books actually reduce the CO2 in the atmosphere, provided they’re made from trees from a sustainable sourse.

    10. plantluvver said

      Those are some interesting statistics! Something to think about. But I agree that we need to reduce environmental impacts in any way that we can.

      It is so much easier in the US to buy something new, than to seek out how to find a used object. Every time I make the effort to locate the item used, I am reinforcing a habit toward living lightly. I am building a habit of looking for alternatives.

      I am also providing an opportunity for someone else to enjoy a book that I have read. And besides, it is fun to be part of a community which treasures books!

    11. Jessica Green said

      Here’s some U.S. stats everyone can get behind & do something about:

      Individually, an avg of 41 lbs of junk mail are sent to every adult each year–44% which goes to a landfill unopened.

      More than 4 million tons (62 billion pcs.) of junk mail is produced annually.

      40% of municipal solid waste is paper & paperboard.

      Americans in the U.S. spend over $275 million to dispose of junk mail annually.

      Now go to and feel empowered!

    12. Sue said

      All taken on board, but remember that if we don’t buy (at least some) books, authors won’t get paid. This is inescapable, unless we somehow find another way to reward those who write the books we so cherish.

      I buy new, second-hand, and mooch, use post-consumer recycled paper (toilet rolls, office paper etc) and recycle everything possible. I don’t support the cutting down of old-growth forests, and think there’s just not enough support for the recycling of paper, nor for alternative materials to make ‘paper’. There’s also way too much junk mail, and junk publications. (The computer revolution didn’t exactly cut down our paper usage, did it?) But despite all this, I know that if I don’t buy the books of writers, they won’t have the wherewithal to keep working.

    13. Gemma said

      OK – I love Bookmooch and think it’s wonderful and would hate to see it disappear but we are harming the environment in other ways by swapping books instead of buying new ones or borrowing from libraries.

      For instance, I have to list the book on the internet (electricity), wrap the book up to post (paper), drive to the post office (fuel) then they send it by all means of transport – road, sea, train, plane etc. which does lots of “bad things” to the environment.

      I would love to know of a study to determine how much environmental damage one new book causes compared to shipping one book from the US to the UK?

      Don’t get me wrong – Bookmooch is wonderful but there are other factors to consider…

    14. Winna said

      Some things said by Gemma are true, but we can still lessen the effects swapping books might create, for instance: use used paper to wrap the books.

      I don’t go specifically to the post office just to ship books everyday, only if I happen to pass it along the way. And everyone is using Internet most times of the day that a few minutes in BookMooch to list a book is hardly a big portion of the time spent online.

      I still think swapping books is a very environmentally friendly way.

    15. Mark Williams said

      Well Gemma, you’ve made several provocative assumption which I would like to take up briefly:

      (no hard feelings, mind you, I’m just nit-picking ๐Ÿ™‚

      “For instance, I have to list the book on the internet (electricity).”

      Okay, some fractional energy may be consumed, but really only if you are just using your computer for this single purpose and not other tasks, as most are. Not to mention some of us either use renewable energy sources (fairly few), or pay our utilities to offset our usage by investing in alternate energy (a minority, but more of us, particularly in California). And of course, the alternative of buying the book new will likely have a similar or greater electricity drain.

      “wrap the book up to post (paper)”

      Many of us never buy new packaging, but rather re-use previous packages sent (up to 5+ times!), or re-use other materials. The same cannot be said of new books purchased from most sources.

      “drive to the post office (fuel)”

      Again, this is a lifestyle choice, I know quite a few of us who bike or walk to the P.O., and others have USPS pick-ups (which does not take extra fuel as no extra trip is made).

      “then they send it by all means of transport – road, sea, train, plane etc. which does lots of โ€œbad thingsโ€ to the environment.”

      Okay, we all have to figure this one in, no way around it. But any new books are shipped from publisher, to distributor, to retail outlet (or another hop to customer if sold online)… If someone mooches a book rather than buying it, all of that (multiple) shipping is bypassed, and just a single shipment of a used book is substituted.

      All in all I think Bookmooch has a net negative carbon footprint (all the more so if we make individual green choices along the way), but I would love to see someone in the business really crunch the numbers for us!

      Reduce, Re-use and Recycle is the mantra of sustainable environmentalism and I think Bookmooch in particular, and the wider universe of used books and other items being exchanged online, contributes to all three laudable goals.

    16. Katie said

      “Well Gemma, youโ€™ve made several provocative assumption which I would like to take up briefly”

      Mark, your assumptions are just as provocative! Just because you know people who don’t drive and reuse wrapping doesn’t necessarily mean a lot of people do. ๐Ÿ™‚

      In some places, driving to the post office is unavoidable, particularly in winter. I wish I could walk to send mail, but I absolutely can’t right now due to poor sidewalk-clearing and an abundance of snow/ice. Even in other seasons, the nearest post office is just about too far for me to walk.

      Anyway, I’ve digressed. Yes, some people might do the things you mentioned, but with no numbers we’ve no indicator of whether or not this counters the things that Gemma mentioned. Not to say that Gemma is absolutely correct, but without statistics this is all speculation.

    17. Tricia Stubbs said

      I have a hard time believing that cutting down a tree is harmful to the environment in itself. In fact trees are the biggest renewable resource we have. Weyerhauser, a big paper company in the Northwest, maintains their business not by looking for old growth forests to cut down, but by replanting the trees they have cut down, like a farm.

      Senseless waste is always bad. But It’s the uncontrolled clearcutting of the rainforests in countries that care nothing for conservation that are the biggest problem. In order to stop that we need to overthrow governments that are selfish and greedy. Oh wait! I think that is all governments!!! As long as a book is recycled in some way, not just read and thrown away, I have no problem cutting down a tree to produce a book.

    18. Joanna Collie said

      Interesting comments all round. But as a writer, I’d like to repeat the (only?) downside to mooching: the author doesn’t get a cent.
      On the other hand, it’s kinda nice to be able to list any left-over copies (the ones with blemishes etc) here and see them travelling to far distant lands, rather than being pulped or sitting in a cardboard box for ever after!

      While we’re on the subject of making our mooches as green as possible โ€“ when you come to tape everything up (reinforcing the corners of your recycled jiffy bags, attaching a shipping label etc) look for a genuine cellulose-based tape (“celloptape” over here). It’s biodegradable, so you can add it to your compost heap afterwards.


    19. bookarts said

      This is a really interesting conversation. I want to reiterate the comments about writers only getting paid when a book is purchased new. I love swapping books on BookMooch, but I still buy new books by my favorite authors. I do want them to get paid. The other issue is that SOMEONE has to buy the books in order for used copies to become available to mooch. There is no way to have used books without having new books. It’s kind of a balancing act between buying new books and mooching used ones. I definitely mooch more books than I buy now (I couldn’t afford to buy the number of books I have mooched!), but I will probably always buy new books as well.

      As for re-using materials, I suspect a lot of BookMoochers do, simply because it can save a lot of money if you send a lot of books.

    20. Lana said

      What was that tidbit about the cows? We’re blaming cows for now for pollution? How can cows compare to power hungry, money hungry, factory building, slave hiring, polluting, all consuming humans?

    21. Mark Williams said


      Well, I do am to be provocative whenever possible:)

      I am firmly convinced of the greenness of book trading and of used books in general. My life’s work is the study of global environmentalism, and I often promote Bookmooch with arguments drawn from sustainable environmentalism, and the three Rs.

      By mentioning I know some people who use recycled packaging, I was referring to hundreds of Bookmoocks members I’ve traded with — at least 30-40% of all the books I have received in my shared account have been packaged in re-used materials. Brown paper grocery bags (often with plastic paper bags inside) are the most common along with re-used mailers of all types. Others use cereal or other food boxes, etc…. I’ve seen the percentage rise through time, and would like to see the trend continue.

      USPS pick-ups are free for any who use e-postage (also free through Paypal), and are not even necessary if you just have a few packages, which your carrier will pick-up for your without any problem. I have not seen the inside of a post office for months. There is of course a minority for which this will still be impracticle for various reasons.

      As to authors not being paid: this is also true of the many great used bookstores, online and brick and mortar, and libraries of course.

      Some see the initial book sale and royalties to cover all consequent use of the book. This is my view, although I am only a lowly academic-type author (in due time ๐Ÿ™‚ ) and that of several authors I know.

      Another thing to consider is the likelihood that the more one reads, the more likely it is that one will purchase new books. Just as those who rent movies heavily (again royalities only paid upon initial purchase) become more likely to be film consumers in the long term.

    22. Sylvain said

      About the author not being paid when libraries lent their books : not necessarily true.

      As a librarian, I know that public library in France make a contribution to authors & publishers with every book they buy (the seller’s in charge of paying up) & every book they lend (the State’s responsability).

      I know it’s the same in Canada, as I read it in Robertson Davies’ correspondence (a book I mooched).

      Don’t know about the USA, though.


    23. pitbullrescuer said

      Wow, Sylvain, I didn’t know about royalties for lending! That’s great. (Sorry, ignorant U.S.-ian here.)

      I’m thrilled, too, at the number of mooched books I get in recycled mailers — more than half, I think. I reuse them again if I can. I’ll keep looking for cellophane packing tape.

      You can really help conserve the planet (and your health!) by not eating animal products. It takes so much more food and water to create an animal to eat than it does just to consume the food and water ourselves. That’s where the cow-methane issue comes in. (Not to mention the cruelty issues.)

      I know a lot of BookMoochers must be interested in vegan or vegetarian cooking because every decent veg cookbook on here seems to be on 20 wishlists or more! For information on animal-free living and its benefits to the earth, I would certainly recommend any book by John Robbins, or his organization’s website:

      Ellen in St. Paul, MN, USA

    24. Fiona said

      One of the best ways to cut down on CO2 emissions is to plant lots of trees, then when they get big cut them down, lock the carbon in to paper (ie books), and plant new trees which will take CO2 out of the atmosphere and turn it in to wood, which can then be locked in to more paper. It’s not cutting down trees that’s a problem, it’s burning them once they’re cut down, and not replacing the ones you do cut down.

      Big huge trees don’t suck much CO2 out of the atmosphere as they’re not growing much any more, younger trees are better for that.

    25. Remi said

      To Mark Williams,
      On your response to Gemma,
      The only thing I use extra energy is on the internet. I use recycled envelopes, my parcel ‘carpools’ with my relative because they have a post office within walking distance of their work, and like you said, there is no way around how they send it (well, you could skip the whole post office thing and walk to the person’s house, but that would take a while.).

    26. Jeff said

      What the heck? Sure I read once in a while. Just the other day I traded and got The Wheel Of Time I The Eye Of The World and The Wheel Of Time XI Knife Of Dreams. I didn’t have to buy book 1 or 11. As long as covers are solidly intact I’d trade for books. Recently I bought a copy of Artemis Fowl V The Lost Colony off somebody from Amazon. Just finished it and also I hit paydirt prior to January 10th and found a set of Lord Of The Rings and The Hobbit. All four of them I didn’t need to buy. (Currently reading The Two Towers Book IV) and I started Nartnia up recently thanks to a discarded copy.

    27. Kirk said

      I think, as another poster said, it’s a mistake to assume that when trees are cut down they are gone for good. Here in France, forests are managed like any other crop. I have neighbors who are in the forestry business, and they are allowed to cut a certain number of trees at a time, which are then replanted. When you travel through the forests here, you can see the new trees growing, and I’m pretty sure that’s the same around the world.

      As for cows, yes, methane is several order of magnitudes worse than CO2, and some estimates say that animal husbandry makes as much greenhouse gas as all the transportation combined. So think about that next time you eat a steak!


    28. Kirk said

      Oh, and regarding authors getting paid for book sales, that only matters for authors who earn out their advances, something that is increasingly rare. I’ve penned a dozen computer books, and only earned out on one of them. So I’m more than happy to see my books get around so people will recognize my name.


    29. Heather said

      I’m not going to get into a debate about the evils of paper and how toilet paper and books are destroying the environment, however, if one wanted to point to a culprit responsible for an ungodly and iresponsible waste of paper and resources, it is the textbook industry. The textbook industry constantly re-publishes the same essential editions with new covers and ridiculous prices to force sell to a captive consumer, the college student. Combine that with junkmail flyers and there is no wonder the rainforests are being decimated. (Ok, maybe not the rainforests- trees are farmed and a renewable resource- but you get my point)

    30. elise said

      Another thing to consider is that for every 8 hours spent reading and NOT watching TV, you’re saving an average of 1.14 pounds of coal!

      The reason a lot of my inventory consists of many advanced reader’s copies is because I find these unsolicited promotional books very wasteful, and there’s no means of re-using them that I’ve found… other than Bookmooch!

      I think Bookmoochers in general are very conscientious people and are not likely to be the greatest source of wasteful consumption (we have corporations to blame for that), and the Eco-Libris stickers are a great idea! As for placement, how about sticking them over the UPC on back covers?

    31. elise said

      Another thing to consider is that for every 8 hours spent reading and NOT watching TV, you’re saving an average of 1.14 pounds of coal!

      The reason a lot of my inventory consists of many advanced reader’s copies is because I find these unsolicited promotional books very wasteful, and there’s no means of re-using them that I’ve found… other than Bookmooch!

      I think Bookmoochers in general are very conscientious people and are not likely to be the greatest source of wasteful consumption (we have corporations to blame for that), and the Eco-Libris stickers are a great idea! As for placement, how about sticking them over the UPC on back covers?

    32. Brian said

      Unless you’re burning your books, they’re actually a carbon sink. Read more – increase the size of your library: Most of the weight of a book is carbon!

      Most paper in North America is made from farmed trees for two basic economic reasons: 1) there’s not that much easily accessible virgin forest left, and 2) modern paper industry requires a consistent quality of wood – which you get from farming it, not cutting random wild trees.

      Think about it: farmed trees weigh tons each – most of which (when dried) is carbon. The trees are then cut and turned into books (or houses or whatever) which keeps the carbon sequestered rather than releasing it back to the environment. The same patch of tree farm land can suck more and more carbon from the atmosphere with each successive planting (about every 25-40 years depending on the species and end use)!

    33. Rachel said


      Tricia, I think it’s possible you were writing quickly and posted without double-checking, because that sentence above seems like it should say “producing paper” not “cutting down a tree.” Otherwise, it seems like you weren’t thinking about it very hard, and I’d like to think better of your ability to google. ๐Ÿ™‚

      I want to explain why it is harmful, and then I want to offer some alternatives for buying books on non-farmed paper, and then I want to tally carbon-costs (in a vague and not dollars-and-cents way) for bookmooching versus buying new.

      If you, Tricia, were in earnest, and actually think there’s nothing harmful about cutting down a tree, consider the following:

      As long as a tree is growing, it’s absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen. Its roots anchor soil, preventing erosion. The tree’s body and foliage create homes for birds, wildlife, and support other plant life. It filters water. When leaves or needles are shed, their decomposition improves the nutrients in the soil, thus encouraging secondary plant growth in the neighborhood of the tree.

      There are trees in North America which have life cycles of more than 200 years, and trees become more important to and more entwined in the life of their local habitats as they get older.

      When a tree dies a natural death, and is left to decompose, it creates an invaluable “nursery” space for new trees, providing them with ideal growing conditions, as well as further encouraging wildlife habitat in the neighbourhood.

      (I encourage you to go read David Suzuki’s excellent little book, “Tree,” if you’d like a more thorough explanation of a tree’s life cycle and what it contributes to the world you live in. “Tree” is less than 100 pages, is available in paperback, and is printed on ancient-forest friendly paper.)

      With all of that said about the value of trees, books don’t have to be made from old-growth trees, or even from paper at all. There are several publishers who are now strictly using ancient-forest friendly paper — Raincoast, for example, printed their entire run of the Harry Potter books (at least the last 4, can’t remember about the first 3) for Canada on farmed-tree paper. That was 800 million books… on the first print-run of HP#5 alone!

      (Also, most mass-market books are printed on newsprint that includes some recycled paper.)

      I want authors to get paid, too. (I’m a bookseller — I really _need_ them to get paid. ๐Ÿ™‚ But, like everything else, we have to communicate to the people who make books that we want a better alternative, which means telling both your favourite authors and their publishers. It’s a good time to start making noise about it, since environmental issues are in the spotlight.

      And absolutely it’s better to read second-hand or library copies than to buy first-hand copies.

      Sure, bookmooching incurs fuel-use within the postal system to carry books around, but the fuel-use for _first-hand_ books is _more_ astronomical. First-hand books go from a printer to a binder, then to a publisher’s warehouse, then to a bookstore (and sometimes before that, to a bookstore’s warehouse), then to the final buyer’s house… and then possibly, if they’ve been bought as a gift, to another person. If they don’t get bought at the bookstore, they eventually get shipped back to the publisher, who may later ship them to another bookstore, or who may pulp the unwanted copies and do yet more shipping to cart the pulp to recycling or landfill.

      Against that, the carbon-cost of sending a bookmooched book by post is really quite insignificant — particularly if you walk to the post office and use recycled packing material, but even if you don’t.

      In sum, vive la bookmooching! vive reusing! and long live books. ๐Ÿ™‚

    34. pattricejones said

      Besides swapping books, we should be supporting public libraries and reading rooms. And, when it comes to new books, let’s give it up for the Green Press Initiative.

      And, yes, it’s true. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization recently released a report confirming that animal agriculture is a chief cause of global warming, more important than even transportation. Quitting meat and other animal products is the most substantial thing you can do to reduce your own carbon footprint. (And it’s good for you too.) So, go vegan!

    35. plantluvver said

      “One of the best ways to cut down on CO2 emissions is to plant lots of trees, then when they get big cut them down, lock the carbon in to paper (ie books), and plant new trees which will take CO2 out of the atmosphere and turn it in to wood, which can then be locked in to more paper.”

      Fiona, you have made my day! So I can now feel noble about the fact that I own absolutely too many books for my shelf space. Even when I can’t find them, or get to them because they are stored in a box, I am doing a service to the environment! Now if I would only stop reading long enough to line every wall in my house with bookshelves, and insulate my exterior walls, I can cut down on my heating bills!

      No, wait! the boxes of books piled floor to ceiling will be even better insulation!

      Ahhh! Now I can spend my Sunday curled up on the sofa with a novel, instead of fumbling around in my attic.Postponing the cleanout of my attic is helping to reduce my carbon footprint!


      As far as an author needing to earn money from a new book sale, this seems a rather simplistic argument. I think that many authors earn an income from speaking engagements, workshops, their ‘day job.’ The gardening authors that I know often work in the nursery business. either by teaching, or owning a nursery. I think that perhaps the income from book sales is just a single element in a complex mix.

      Often it is through a used copy of a book that I become acquainted with an author, and then I will later become a purchaser of a new work, or an attendee at a workshop. And I have also read many books that I wish I hadn’t bothered with. Some of these were books which I had purchased new, while intoxicated by the smell of the fresh ink on the pages.

      I love books, but I am suspicious of the publishing industry. I have often bought a new book, only to find that I already own it, under another title, and cover art.

      Besides, this argument doesn’t apply to some authors, like Dickens. Should I stop reading books by dead guys, in order to read more books because the living need to eat?

      Also, the fact that I buy used books doesn’t mean that I do not buy new books. Reading isn’t like eating. In fact, many of my books are more like reference books, and are consulted on occasion, and are never read.

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