Q:  I’m only in my freshman year of college, and I’ve already accumulated a whole closet full of textbooks that I’ll never use again. My school doesn’t have a collection system—is there way to make sure my books get resold or recycled? I wouldn’t mind getting some money back, either.  —Nick, OH

A:  On behalf of the 4 million trees chopped down annually for textbook production, thanks for popping the question, Nick. Plus, what with student loans, meal plans, and the cost of Naty Light these days, who wants to shell out a thousand bucks on new books each year? (Okay, Naty Light is cheap, but when you drink gallons of the stuff…). If, by the way, you’re wondering how textbook companies get away with charging an arm and a leg, you’ll be interested in this Washington Post article. The folks over at MakeTextbooksAffordable.org are so peeved that they’ve got a campaign going to stop the injustice of it all.

The best thing you can do is take matters into your own hands and start a textbook recycling program on campus. That way, your 600-page astrophysics textbook, for example, will go straight into the hands of someone who’s taking ASTRO 101 with the same professor and same curriculum next fall, rather than be shipped across the country to some big textbook rental warehouse and back again. Log into eHow for tips on starting a campus textbook recycling program.

If you haven’t got the time to organize a program at your school, there are some useful online options for cheap used-textbook rental/purchase. Check out Book Renter, Campus Book Rentals, Why Rent Books, or Chegg—a new online book rental agency that (through partnership with a reforestation company called Eco-Libris) plants a tree for every book you rent. Since its 2007 launch, Chegg has reached more than 1,000 campuses, and the program has gotten, well… let’s say  “enthusiastic” responses from lots of students. Like this one, from Chelsea, who’s apparently on a nickname-basis with the Chegg:

Hey Cheggers, I think it's awesome that you guys are planting a tree for ever book rented, that’s great! I also want you to know that this whole book renting is a GREAT idea and I'm sooo glad I found out about it. Thanks for the cheap prices and your hard work towards taking care of our planet! Keep up the good work. Chelsea

See what you’ve been missing out on? “But what about highlighting and note-taking?” you ask. Tough noogie. Chegg allows for “minimal highlighting,” but note-taking is off-limits, as it’s simply too distracting for the next user. So keep a separate document for notes as you read—small price to pay for healthy planet and a heavy wallet, right?

Story by Tobin Hack. This article originally appeared in "Plenty" in April 2008.

Copyright Environ Press 2008