Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Carbon Neutral Book Shipping

Selling used books is a form of recycling that saves a lot of resources; books that would otherwise be wasted get a second use with minimal processing. This effect is massively intensified by internet bookstores; volumes for which there is a small local demand can now efficiently be sold to people who want them almost anywhere on the planet.
My favorite actual sale was a battered Amharic/English dictionary that I got cheap, real cheap; there just aren't that many people in the Seattle area who speak the native language of Etheipia. I sold it to a guy in Norway, who explained that Norway has a project in Ethiopia something like our American Peace Corps; there may be no Norweigian/Amharic dictionaries but most Nordics have enough English that this dictionary would help the project move forward ... and this book got a new use!
However, nothing is free. Books must be shipped; I cannot grossly cut the carbon cost of physically moving the volume, although this is grossly outweighed by the energy saved in not pulping the copy I have and re-printing a copy at the seller's location. However, I can replace the carbon-intensive/non-recyclable shipping materials, such as plastic or mylar padded mailers, with something that is almost completely recyclable once it is done being used. Best of all, this practice reduces the material that has to go into recylcing bins in the first place!


  • Get a Chopper (see picture). If your volume is low, you can do this with sissors or shears, but it is much more work. Choppers pay for themselves quickly, especially if you get one at a thrift store, as I did.
  • Get some clean cardboard. You can pay to get it new, or you can double the recycling benefit by re-using boxes used by your friends and neighbors (it saves a lot of money too!) Use only clean cardboard, blank on at least one side; cardboard is common enough that you needn't use marginal stuff.
  • Pre-cut some cardboard blanks: rectangular strips that will wrap around books. I keep in stock blanks 7" wide for massmarket paperbacks, and 10.5" wide for most other books. They can be almost any convenient length since you'll trim them to fit individual books. The important thing is to have the cardboard ribbing at right angles to the width, so you can easily bend the cardboard along the ribbing.

For Each Book

  • Before you ship a book, check it for quality. This shouldn't take long, but you don't want to ship something that the receiver won't want. Every now and then, a book is damaged in storage or ... and this is annoying ... a publisher re-uses an ISBN so the book the buyer buys is not the one you catalog.
  • Wrap the book in cling-wrap. This is plastic and not reusable; however, it keeps the book protected from water (...sometimes books delivered to doorsteps get rained on...) and holds the book together tightly, so the pages don't flap open in transit.
  • Now set the book on a blank, wrap the cardboard around it and note where you'll want to cut it with the chopper. Don't be skimpy with the cardboard; it's cheap and light and you want plenty of protection!
  • I usually slide the book off the cardboard before I chop it; maybe I'm paranoid but I like to keep the chop simple. That gadget really will take off the end of a finger so safety first!
  • Now put the book and any stuffers (e.g. packing slip) on the cardboard, wrap the cardboard around everything and secure with tape. I use strong clear plastic packing tape; it doesn't recycle well but I haven't found a good paper substitute. Do not use duct tape, as it comes off. Scotch tape is not strong enough to be reliable. Strapping tape (the kind with filiment in it) is way overkill!
  • Add address label and postage and you're done!
If my packages are going to sit around any length of time, I try to pack them flat so the weight of the books contribute to keeping everything neat and tidy. This may be a small point but it costs nothing, so why not?

I ship 10-20 books a day. That's something like 5000 a year, and I have never gotten a complaint over this kind of packaging. I hope that I have not only put to immediate use something like 5000 pieces of cardboard, but also saved 5000 or more mailers from going into the trash (...and saved myself the cost of 5000 plastic padded mailers. Ka-ching!)

Sunday, August 23, 2009

You Didn't Get Mad...

Dear Teabagger

You didn't get mad when the Supreme Court stopped a sovereign state from its a legal recount and appointed a President who got fewer popular votes than his rival.

You didn't get mad when the Vice President Cheney allowed Energy company officials to dictate energy policy.

You didn't get mad when the Executive Branch outed covert CIA operative and destroyed her operation to block terrorists seeking nuclear weapons.

You didn't get mad when the President demanded and Congress passed the Patriot Act.

You didn't get mad when our government illegally invaded a country that posed no threat to us.

You didn't get mad when our government spent over 600 billion(and counting) on said illegal war.

You didn't get mad when our government shipped over 10 billion dollars in shrink-wrapped pallets of cash to Iraq where it mysteriously disappeared.

You didn't get mad when you saw our government-sponsored Abu Grahib photos.

You didn't get mad when you found out our government was torturing people.

You didn't get mad when our government was illegally wiretapping Americans, without even getting retroactive judicial warrants.

You didn't get mad when our government didn't catch Bin Laden.

You didn't get mad when you saw the horrible conditions at Walter Reed.

You didn't get mad when our government let a major US city drown.

You didn't get mad when our government's deficit (once you add in Iraq and TARP) went over the trillion dollar mark.

You finally got mad when..


wait for it...

when our government proposed that people in America deserved the right to see a doctor if they are sick.

Yes, a government that kills thousands in illegal wars, lies to you, is completely corrupt, tortures, and steals your tax dollars to make the rich richer .. that is ok with you but ...

a government that helps other Americans...

well f*ck that with a teabag!

That about right, Teabagger?

The original concept to the above is not original with me but I made a few improvements.