New Life for Old (Recycled) Textbooks, Courtesy of McGraw-Hill Grant

If you’re like me, “recycled textbook” means a big wedge of out-of-date social studies with a full list of made-up names written on the inside cover (Harry Butte? Delightful!). More importantly, it means a chunk of tree-pulp at the end of the line, probably relegated to the farthest, dustiest reaches of the local used book sale.

Apparently not everyone is so shortsighted. With the help of a new grant from McGraw-Hill, National Wildlife Federation announced (PDF) Monday it will launch a real textbook recycling program, the first of its kind that engages educational institutions and corporations in a comprehensive waste reduction and sustainable development program.

The Eco-Schools USA and Campus Ecology programs will use the grant to engage NewPage Corporation, one of McGraw-Hill’s paper manufacturers, to de-ink old textbook pages so their paper fiber can be re-used for new books. The program will also increase general awareness of textbook recycling and conduct further research on the lifecycles of textbooks.

My textbook! I've been looking everywhere for it. (flickr | mod as hell)

I’d like to think I’m something of a lay expert on textbook lifecycles myself (refer to first paragraph): every year in school I received a worn stack of books chock full of facts about Vice-President-elect Alben Barkley and the newly minted Big Bang theory, spindle and mutilate as necessary, and deposit for safekeeping in my bedroom closet. The Greenberg family eventually became the Montgomery County Library System’s largest private supplier of word problems and illustrations of the Continental Congress. Ladies and gentlemen, the lifecycle of textbooks!

(Seriously, this program fills an industry and education need, and it aligns with NWF’s work on sustainably procured paper, which in part relies on an increased supply of recovered fiber. Kids, don’t ever hoard textbooks.)

Under the grant, NWF will choose two undergraduate student fellows from its Campus Ecology program to manage the recycling pilot. They will coordinate textbook recycling events and increase awareness and education about consumption, waste, and the recycling process. The program is being piloted in K-12 and higher education sectors in Wisconsin and Minnesota, with the aim of eventually extending it nationwide.

The McGraw-Hill Companies was recently recognized by Corporate Responsibility Magazine (that’s a thing) as one of the “100 Best Corporate Citizens” for the second straight year based in part on its environmental leadership, and the multi-billion dollar company, which claims brands like Standard & Poor’s, Platts and J.D. Power and Associates, was named one of the top 50 U.S. ‘green’ companies by Newsweek in 2010.

Stay tuned for more news on the textbook recycling initiative grant.