Recycling in Public and Academic Libraries


Increasing the number of bins does not automatically boost the amount of recycling. In addition to increasing the number and type of bins, location and correct signage is needed to be effective. The traffic patterns of people between desks, break areas, restrooms and work/study areas such as receiving, printing/copying and public Internet terminals affect the amount and quality of recycling. Bin location is as important as bin type and informative signage. It is now best practice to have re-use of items as part of good sustainability practice.


The increase in information available on the Internet and through subscription databases increases the demand for printing. To reduce printing many libraries instituted fees. In one study, done at Colorado State University, after a fee-based system was adopted, printing decreased from 35,000 prints in one week to 31,000 in a month. Of those libraries that charge for printing 20% charged five cents or less per page and 66% charged between six and ten cents. This small fee allows cost recovery and an incentive to not print more than necessary, in addition to saving paper and toner, energy is also saved.


United States waste statistics are unpleasant, but one important fact is that paper and paper products such books, periodicals, and cardboard comprise nearly 40% of the solid waste stream in the United States. In a survey, 88% of libraries recycled office paper and newspapers and 92% of libraries recycled white paper at public workstations.

In addition to white paper many libraries provide recycling for other materials as well. Newspaper was recycled in (60%) of public areas by and color paper by 59% of libraries. Other materials recycled included aluminum (47%), plastic (33%) and glass (28%). Reluctance to recycle these non-paper materials is attributed to libraries not allowing food or drink in public areas. Although public areas involve a great deal of paper consumption, many more materials are used in staff areas. White paper recycling was provided in 93% of libraries. Sixty-three percent have provided recycling in staff areas for over five years. 72% recycle newspaper, 69% recycle color paper, 66% recycle aluminum, 39% recycle plastic, and 30% recycle glass. Other materials recycled in staff areas included cardboard (62%), magazines (49%), and books (31%).

Adding bins for beverage containers and accepting tapes, microfilm, styrofoam and unsorted plastics such as cd’s dvd’s and packing materilas are recent innovations in the LibriLoop program.


Fifty-six percent of libraries use paper with recycled content the availability of surplus or “pre-cycled” paper in the LibriLoop program lowers the cost and increases useage. Most libraries that use recycled content paper do so because of environmental concerns (43%) or because of policy (23%). Twenty-two percent also reported switching because it was an administrative decision. Those libraries that do not use recycled paper cited lack of availability, prohibitive costs, or no administrative support (11%) as the reason for not purchasing paper with recycled content. A high percentage of libraries reuse bubble mailers and packaging for Inter-library loan and mailing, and keeping clamshells and jewel cases from discards to re use or repair items still in circulation.

The greatest increase in reuse occurs as libraries recognize that sustainability goals can not be achieved with out treating discarded library materials like any other asset, i.e. monetizing the discards. While libraries are not in the book sales business, simply shredding or discarding a book makes no more sense than crushing a bookmobile or carpool vehicle rather than trading it in or selling it to recover residual value.

Many systems and trusted, reliable vendors are now in place to assist Libraries in recovering residual value from discards or to assist volunteer friends groups in achieving sustainability goals. The Libriloop system is the latest and most innovative of these programs consolidating multiple vendors into one increasing reuse, recycling and reduction in one simple program.



It is difficult to predict what the future holds in regard to paper use and recycling, without a doubt, libraries are sites of enormous consumption and they should be proactive in improving waste management. A paperless world is unlikely to become a reality for a very long time, if ever, but what can libraries do now to discourage waste and encourage recycling? “Libriloop” libraries are taking steps to divert recyclables from the waste stream, monetize discards, and resource share discards between large systems and small rural libraries. Libraries will continue to take steps to control excessive and unnecessary printing and allow the placement of more recycling containers and allocating space to store gathered recyclables for pickup. Paper use and recycling are campus-wide, system-wide concerns and require collaboration among all departments, libraries can become a model by allowing decision-making to be guided by environmental protection principles combined with good sustainability and asset management practices.