• Thu. May 30th, 2024

WH Smith launch a buy-back scheme for used books: how can we make reading more sustainable?

ByZara Corbett

Nov 24, 2023
WH Smith shop on high street

In an apparent effort to make reading more sustainable, WH Smith have launched a buy-back scheme for used books, measuring a book’s worth through various characteristics such as its condition, the popularity of its genre and its market value. It is then “responsibly recycled” or put back on shelves to resell as part of their ‘BookCycle’ initiative.

This isn’t a new concept: second-hand bookshops and charity bookshops have been around for decades, relying on the generosity of readers and the British tradition of a good spring clean.

The idea of the WH Smith scheme is that books will similarly be kept on shelves and available to other readers, but with a monetary reward offered for those willing to part with their pre-loved books. Customers who donate are sent an e-voucher to spend in store, representing the value of the books they have brought in.

The compensation via vouchers keeps books in circulation, but also keeps customers in circulation: a clever marketing strategy on behalf of the sales team. 

WH Smith’s partner in the scheme is a buy-back company called Zeercle who sell books in the UK via online marketplaces such as Amazon and eBay, both ethically questionable retailers who are not known for their eco-conscious practices. The advertised principle is sustainability, but the result is more customers and more money for major retailers. In such cases, readers must be aware of greenwashing and choose their book shops mindfully.

Buying second hand results in an 80% reduction in a book’s carbon footprint, according to Penguin Books, and the second-hand market is growing. World of Books is an award-winning organisation saving books destined for landfill and re-selling them online at a reduced price. They are a certified B-Corporation, which means their business model has been assessed and has met the standards to be a stand-out leader in sustainability. They have a huge variety of books available at reasonable prices, with free UK delivery.

E-readers are another option worth considering if you would like to become more sustainable in your reading habits. Whilst controversial in the eyes of reading puritans who consider anything less than a hardback a crime against the art of literature, they are a sustainable alternative to buying endless physical volumes. Despite having recently come under attack due to environmental considerations of their manufacture and disposal, E-readers have been shown to halve the carbon footprint of prolific readers. 

Of course, as another option for those of us living in Edinburgh, we are spoilt for choice with second-hand bookshops such as Oxfam Books, Armchair Books and the Amnesty Bookshop in Marchmont. 

Taking steps to become more environmentally conscious is a process, and reconsidering the way we consume literature is a great place to start.

WH Smiths, Bank Street, Newquay, Cornwall – June 2022” by Mutney is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0