Having the right books helps students bone up on all the latest subjects, but doing so can mean a hefty cost to both the wallet and the environment. In 2006, about 20 million go-getters enrolled in higher education, according to the US Census. Most of these students will need a stack of books to get through the semester, contributing heavily to the 90 million tons of paper that Americans already use each year.

Luckily, buying used textbooks is one of the easiest ways to cut down on paper waste and save money, which is why it’s a rite of passage for most college students that’d rather save money for beer, not books. Best of all, it’s extremely easy to buy and sell books these days with virtual garage sales and book swaps available online at sites like Craigslist, Facebook’s Marketplace, Half.com and Campus Book Swap. Even book behemoth Amazon has gotten into the mix with its used textbook section.

If you’re not the flea market type, consider buying electronic textbooks. These books are typically cheaper than print and they’re completely paper-waste free (though you will be using energy by reading off your computer). Check out CourseSmart, a new service that offers 180-day subscriptions to more than 4,000 e-textbooks and course materials that are accessible from any computer. CourseSmart estimates that so far users have saved more than 5,000 trees by using online materials.

Story by Jessica A. Knoblauch. This article originally appeared in Plenty in August 2008.

Copyright Environ Press 2008