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June 28, 2012

When a Plastic-Free Book is Covered in Plastic


When you write a book called Plastic-Free, and your publisher strives to create the book without any plastic materials, you might expect the book will be offered to the public without plastic.  But expect the unexpected.  Logic does not always prevail.  I’ve received a couple of reports of my book being covered in plastic: one situation is truly unfortunate.  The other situation is more understandable.  Here’s what happened.

Plastic-Free shrink wrapped!

One of my Australian readers emailed me to say that my book had been delivered to the bookstore his mom manages completely shrink-wrapped in plastic. He even sent me a photo:

After a bit of freaking out (on my part) and research (on the part of his mom and my publisher), we learned that the Australian distributor had shrink wrapped all 80 copies after receiving them, in an effort to protect them from… what? Human hands? Obviously, they had not noticed the title of the book when they did this. But also, they didn’t stop to think that allowing customers to open and flip through books is how you market them–especially a book like Plastic-Free, which is full of color photos and beautiful design features. Anyway, the distributor has promised this will not happen again. And I just hope that bookstores that receive shrink-wrapped copies will remove the plastic and send it back to the distributor with a note explaining why before displaying the book for customers.

I also hope that they will not only send back the plastic from my book, but all books they receive shrink-wrapped in plastic.  It’s a matter of values, actually.  Is preventing a few fingerprints worth adding more single-use disposable plastic to the planet?

(And to those who worry about the carbon footprint of sending back packaging: to me, the little carbon generated to return unwanted packaging will be negated by the reduction in plastic packaging when companies get the message and stop producing so much plastic waste in the first place.  But they won’t do it if we don’t let them know.  And I think sending back packaging sends a more powerful statement than simply sending an email or writing a letter.  But what do you think?)

Plastic Library Covers

I’ve also been getting emails from readers letting me know that libraries are covering my book in protective plastic sleeves.

After receiving a couple of these notices, I emailed my local Oakland librarian to find out a) if Oakland would be covering my book in plastic, and b) if there was any way to avoid it — perhaps a different kind of protective material could be used. Here’s her response:

I understand your concern and how ironic this is, but keep in mind that our books are handled by many, many different people. Libraries often even have to wipe down books that are returned with sticky covers – you would be amazed at how badly they are often treated. In the ecological scheme of things, we would be replacing our books much, much more often if they did not have protective mylar covers. I did talk this over with our processing folks, and cellulose simply does not work as well and is prohibitively expensive.

My thoughts? I do wish there were a more sustainable alternative than plastic to use to protect the books, but I also recognize that protecting the book so that it can be read by hundreds, if not thousands, of people will have a much lower ecological footprint than if each of those people were to purchase a book separately. I support libraries. In fact, in Plastic-Free, I champion borrowing, sharing, and renting over buying new stuff. It’s not just a way to reduce plastic consumption, but to reduce consumption in general. So while I’m not thrilled to have my book covered in plastic, and I expect to receive many more emails about it as people check out the book from the library, I can live with it.

What do you think?  Have you heard of an alternative way for libraries to protect books that doesn’t involve plastic?

And if you encounter Plastic-Free wrapped in plastic–outside of a library–please contact me and let me know.   I’ll get right on it!


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