15 Ways to Recycle and Reuse Old Textbooks

Old books on a wooden shelf. -  Image

Photo by Nadezhda Tsarenko @ 123RF.com

If you have been in college even for just one semester, then you know how expensive textbooks are.  You also know how hard it is to resell them if the school changes books for the next year.  Then you are stuck with a pile of books that no one wants, including you.  So, what do you do?

These 15 ways to recycle and reuse old textbooks will help you make use or finally get rid of those books that you keep tripping over.  Gathering dust in a corner or forgotten part of your closet will do no one any good. There are plenty of ways to put those old books to work.

  1. Donate Them to a Library
  2. Sell Them Online
  3. Better World Books
  4. Ship Them to Prisons
  5. Trade Them
  6. Recycle Them
  7. Make Gift Tags
  8. Make Gift Card Envelopes
  9. Hollow Them Out
  10. Make a Nightstand
  11. Get Crafty with Paper Flowers
  12. Custom Bookmarks
  13. Make a Wall Sculpture
  14. Use Them as a Planter
  15. Desk Organizer

 Knowing what you can do with those old textbooks is going to be great when it comes to reducing clutter around your house, but what about next semester and the next?  Are you going to keep accumulating textbooks that you will need to find a home or use for?  There are a few other ways to get the textbooks you need without keeping them around forever.  Read to the end for those tips.

15 Great Things to Do with Old Textbooks

Old textbooks lying around your house or apartment are unsightly and take up much need space.  There is no room in life to have useless things all over the place.  But old textbooks don’t have to be useless, and they don’t have to take up space and get in the way.  There are many things that can be done with them.

Thanks to the advent of the internet and fun DIY sites, there is no shortage of creative inspiration and ways to find places to send the books.  Some places that take donations will not want or need old textbooks, so make sure you ask first.  There is nothing worse than passing your clutter on to be someone else’s clutter.

Now we get to take a more detailed look at the 15 things you can do with old textbooks once you are done with them.  Some of these may not be a good fit for you for one reason or another, but we bet you will find at least one thing that will get rid of or make use of those pesky textbooks.

Donate Them to A Library

This option is pretty easy since most towns have a library.  However, not every book donated to a library is something that the library would want.  If they have a reference section, then this may be a welcome donation.  It is best to ask them if they would want to have these books for the non-fiction reference section or not.

If they don’t want the books, then you need to find something else to do with them, don’t just dump them off on the library and expect them to do something with your unwanted textbooks. There are many other options when it comes to recycling old books, so all is not lost.

Sell Them Online

Just because your college is not using a particular textbook anymore doesn’t mean that other universities aren’t using it or that someone else might not need it. The great thing about selling old textbooks online is that the reach is far.  You can sell your books on the world market instead of just your immediate area.

A quick online search will help you find the best places to sell the books, but there are social media sites that have marketplace pages.  There are many textbook sales pages that will give you a great audience to sell your old books.

They may not sell fast depending on the age and edition of the book, but someone somewhere is looking for that book, so don’t give up.

Better World Books

One pretty great donation option is through a program called Better World Books.  You won’t get any money for these books, but you can feel amazing about helping this organization through the donation of your old textbooks.

This organization takes unwanted books and textbooks to sell them to make money to fund literacy and education initiatives all over the world.  So far, this program has raised close to 24 million dollars for education and literacy.

We love everything about this and hope that if you are unable to sell your textbooks that you will donate to this program and help spread the gift of education to people that otherwise would not have the opportunity.

Ship Them to Prisons

Another really amazing thing that you can do with your old textbooks that will help educate the underserved population is to send them to prisons. There are specific services that can help you do this safely and easily.  The services aren’t hard to find, and a quick search will render some good options.

Prisoners have the option to check books out of the library and take some classes to help them with education and job skills when they rejoin the general population.  Giving your old textbooks to people that would really benefit from them is something that you can feel good about.  So, dust those books off, pull them out of the corner, and send them away to be used.

Trade Them

A good barter system has never been a bad thing, and when it comes to textbooks, we can safely say that that is the case.  It is very likely that you have a book that someone else needs and that they have a book that you need.  You just haven’t found each other yet.

Thanks to the internet, there are a few ways that you can find each other.  You can go the pretty basic route of social media marketplaces and hope against hope that the person with the book you need will be there, or you can go a more specialized route.

There is a service called student2student that will actually do the heavy lifting of the trade.  They will take your information and the book you have plus the one you need and match you with a person that has what you need and needs what you have.  How great is that?

Of course, it isn’t an exact science, and there has to be a person that matches with you; otherwise, it won’t work.  So, it could take a little bit of time or no time at all, depending on the circumstances.

Recycle Them

If you are really done with your textbooks and don’t want to donate them or do some fun craft, then you can just take them to the recycling center.  For the most part, if the center closest to you takes paper and cardboard, then it is likely that they will take your textbooks.

We suggest that you call first just to make sure.  This could save you some wasted time if it turns out that the recycling facility won’t take the textbooks.

DIY Crafts

Now we are coming into the crafty ideas of what to do with your old textbooks.  Those books are filled with pages and pages of paper that can be repurposed into something fun or useful. There is practically no end to the things that can be made out of textbooks that will be discarded anyway.

A quick Pinterest search will give you mountains of inspiration and will have you running to the store for more sharpies, paint, and mod podge.  You might even get so carried away that everyone you know gets DIY gifts made from textbooks this year.  But we won’t judge.

Make Gift Tags

There is one thing that spending money on seems ridiculous.  Gift tags add a little extra to any gift, but do you really need to go buy them?  Not if you have a pile of old textbooks lying around.  Plus, all you need to make some DIY gift tags is a sharpie, a small hole punch, and a pair of scissors.  Of course, ribbon or yarn would be helpful, but you can improvise if you don’t have any.

Pick a page, any page, to cut in the shape of a gift tag.  The best part is that you can customize the shape.  It doesn’t have to be the normal rectangle, so think about the person the gift is for and make the shape something they love.  Once you have done that, you can use the sharpie to write your message so that it stands out.

If you want to tie it on the gift instead of taping it, then you will need to cut or punch a hole in the tag and use some kind of string to tie it on.

Make Gift Card Envelopes

Gift cards are really easy and simple gifts that most people love to receive, but they do seem very impersonal.  The best way to add a little personality to the gift card is with a fun DIY gift card envelope.

Just like with the gift tag, you don’t need much.  Pick a page out of the textbook and use some paper folding skills to make a tiny envelope to fit the gift card.  Once you have done this, you can use a sharpie to write a fun message on the envelope.  This shows that you took the time to make something personal for the gift recipient.

If you don’t know how to fold a paper envelope, you can do a quick search on the internet to find a plethora of tutorials. There are a variety of options out there, so if you prefer a video tutorial, there is something for you.  If you would rather have a step by step written tutorial with pictures, have no fear, there are many.

Hollow Them Out

We don’t know about you, but we love to read a good mystery novel – something that involves secret passageways, hidden keys, and maybe a hollowed-out book or two that will become the center of the story.  Everyone loves to have secret hiding places for their most loved treasures, so why not hide them in plain sight.

The best way to do that is with a book that looks completely ordinary but is hollowed-out to become a box to hide things in.  This is not hard to do and will make you feel like a kid again.  Just take a very sharp knife and start cutting in the middle of the book.  You want to leave a few inches on margin so that it will be a sturdy box and won’t give any clue to someone that sees in on the shelf.

Once you have a square of space in the middle of the book, put your treasures inside and place in unassumingly on the shelf.  It will be like you and your bookcase have an inside joke since no one else will know unless you tell them.  Carry on, Watson.

Make a Nightstand

This is fun because if you are an avid reader, then you probably have a pile of books on your nightstand.  What better nightstand to have than one that is made entirely out of books. This project may take a little bit more of an in-depth tutorial, but it will be worth it in the end.

The easiest way to do this is by taking six to ten textbooks depending on how high you want the nightstand (it may be more or less) and choosing how you want to stagger them to make them sturdy.

Once you know how you want them to be stacked, you will need some pretty strong super glue.  Glue the books together one by one the way you stacked them.  You can either leave the books as they are, or you can paint them any color you wish.  If the textbooks aren’t very attractive, then painting may be the way to go, but that is up to you.

Get Crafty with Paper Flowers

Paper crafts are really fun and can be very beautiful.  Making flowers out of some of the pages of old textbooks could be an easy way to jazz up a gift, a wreath, or a bookmark just as some examples.  Really the sky is the limit.

If you have kids in your life, then you can teach them how to make them too. Kids, for the most part, love making things with their hands and challenging their minds.  They can also add to the craft by painting the flowers.

They could make a paper flower bouquet for a teacher or neighbor too.  There are so many things that can be done with paper flowers that it will be worth learning how to make them.

Custom Bookmarks

Book lovers unite with this next fun idea to repurpose old textbooks. We love a good bookmark, and the best bookmark is a thoughtful custom made one.  This is a DIY craft that is easy and might have everything you need to complete a few without a trip to the local craft store.

Like the last two repurposing ideas you need a sharpie (maybe), a hole punch and some ribbon.  If you don’t want to draw a custom picture or put a quote on it, then you won’t need a sharpie, but a hole punch to poke a hole for a pretty ribbon will be great.

Laminating your custom bookmark is a good idea if you have access to a laminator of some kind.  This will make it last longer.  These can make great gifts to pair with a gift card to a bookstore or even a book. They add a little personality to any gift you give it with.

Make a Wall Sculpture

This idea may take a little more ingenuity and handyman skills, but if it is done right, it can be a great piece of art on the wall.  You can do a ton with this idea.  You can actually make the sculpture in such a way that it is actually a bookshelf for other books. It will basically be invisible if you don’t know what you are looking at.

Another way to do this would be to paint the outside of the books to match the rest of the decor.  That way, people might think they are books but maybe won’t know if they are real or fake—a little bit of an illusion to catch the eye of your guests.

Use Them as a Planter

When two things you love collide into one great DIY project, it is like the stars have aligned. If you love plants and love books, then why not make one (or a dozen) of your old textbooks into planters for your favorite house plants?  This would add such a unique vibe to your decor that you might even have people asking you to make a planter for them.

This works similarly to the hollowed-out book idea, but you will actually cut through the cover as well.  You will need to have a plastic pot that fits down inside, so you may need to measure it.  Depending on the depth you need, you might have to glue a few books together before you start the process of cutting a pot-shaped hole through the middle of the books.

If you don’t like the look of the books cover or binding, then you can, of course, paint the outside.  It would be fun to paint them to look like your favorite fiction books too. But the aesthetic part is completely up to you.  Also, keep in mind that this would be a great gift for any plant and book lover in your life, and DIY gifts are always appreciated.

Desk Organizer

Using an old textbook or two as a desk organizer is just really fun.  Students tend to be the bookish type, so this is perfect.  Plus, repurposing old textbooks will keep them out of the landfill, so it is a win for everyone.

Instead of buying a generic desk organizer from the local big box store, why not make a unique one that will keep you smiling while you are stuck in a long study session?  We think this idea is pretty much amazing and hope you will too.

Like a few of the other ideas on this list, you will have to take the time to hollow out either one or two circles in the book, depending on how much organizer space you need.  For this project, you can actually remove the covers.  If you need the organizer to be higher, there are a few options.

If the textbooks are large but not thick, then you can cut the book in half and stack the pages together.  Make sure you glue them tightly together before you start the process of hollowing out the circles.  However, if the book is thick enough and you don’t need to add any height, then just start making your circles. Mod Podge the pages together.  This will make a sturdy papier mâché type feel to it plus keep it sturdy for your use.

Where to Find Other Ideas

This list is, by no means, comprehensive.  There are so many ways to recycle old textbooks that it can actually be overwhelming sometimes.  The ideas are so good that you may want to use them all, but unless you have a backlog of dozens of textbooks, it probably won’t be possible.  Although stranger things have happened so you might surprise us.

We have found that the best place to find ideas and inspiration for repurposing old textbooks is actually on Pinterest.  Pinterest is a search engine that is a treasure trove of ideas, tutorials, and anything else you might need to DIY your life.  Plus, many other things like recipes and educational sites.

So if you have gone through our list and still have books you need a use for, then get yourself on Pinterest and find some amazing ideas to keep your textbooks out of the landfill.

Better Ways to Find Textbooks

So now you have recycled or repurposed all of your old textbooks, but a new semester will be upon you soon.  That means more textbooks will start piling up again.  How do you prevent the same thing as before?  We love to DIY, but there is really a point where all of your furniture is now made of old textbooks, and you can’t possibly make another bookmark.

There are actually two really good ways to prevent a dusty stockpile of textbooks.  Either way you do it is fine, and if you just want to buy your books and hope to be able to resell them after the semester, then that is fine too—no judgment from us. But just in case, take a look at these ideas.


You can actually rent textbooks.  Did you know that?  We wish this had been a thing when we were in college, but it wasn’t.  You can get online and search textbook rental.  Search for the books you need for the semester and proceed to add them to your cart just like you would if you were buying them.

Rentals are a fraction of the price you would pay to buy the textbooks, so this idea not only cuts down on clutter, but it is also budget-friendly.  This is a win-win for the average broke college student.

You can choose the time frame that you need the book, and then you pay the rental fee, and they ship the books.  When you are done, you send them back.  That will be the easiest thing you do all semester.  Some people have some reservations when it comes to renting textbooks; this is understandable.  But there are few people that have rented textbooks that wished they had purchased their books instead.


This is an idea that really relies on some personal networking to work.  If you have a pretty good group of friends and acquaintances that are in a similar major of the same program but have taken the classes at a different time, then this could work for you.

Borrowing books from friends and classmates will save you money, and it will save them clutter for the time being.  Really, you could even buy it from them pretty cheaply if they don’t want it back, but that defeats the purpose of borrowing.

There are some people that will want to keep all of their textbooks from college for future reference.  These people are the ideal people to borrow from.  They want them back, and you just want them only for a little while—perfect set up.

We would caution you though, if the person you are thinking about borrowing from is really particular about their books, you might want to look elsewhere.  If they want them back in pristine condition and that is not something you can promise, then don’t borrow the book from them.

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