Healthy Planet opens Books For Free shops

A green charity offering books for free aims to open an outlet in every town in the UK, and has called on publishers to donate titles.

The Booksellers Association has come out in support of the programme run by Healthy Planet, which promotes environmentally-friendly initiatives including funding conservation projects, providing learning resources for schools and more recently opening up Books For Free (BFF) shops.

The BFF shops are stocked with books that would otherwise be pulped or put in landfill by charity shops and second-hand book dealers that can’t sell them. Healthy Planet claims to have saved 50 tonnes of books from landfill this year, at 2,000 books a tonne.

There are currently nine BFF outlets open; in Basildon, Southport, Reading, Stockton-on-Tees and London—which has five outlets. A further 19 are in the pipeline. The charity takes advantage of empty retail spaces by offering to pay the lease-holder or landlord’s business rate in return for opening up a BFF store.

One of the latest outlets to open is in the West 12 shopping centre in Shepherd’s Bush, London, which asks customers to take no more than three books, each in return for an optional donation. It stocks a range of genres of books in varying conditions by authors including Stephen King, Frank Skinner and Agatha Christie.

The charity’s founder Shaylesh Patel said: “For us, this is about saving books from landfill, but literacy also has a positive correlation with education and people learning about the impact they have on the environment . . . We would like to open as many stores as we can—hundreds—it is our aim to have a Books For Free store in every town in the UK and be the largest ‘retailer’ in the country.”

Tim Godfray, Booksellers Association c.e.o., said: “The encouragement and enabling of reading is something all of us in the book industry welcome, so a charity taking the initiative to put—otherwise genuinely unwanted—books in the hands of those who may well be a book-buying customer of tomorrow is certainly not something to be discouraged.”

However, other independent retailers have expressed concern about the development. Nic Bottomley of Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights in Bath said while he had not researched the initiative, the charity should lobby publishers to reduce print runs and booksellers to reduce their returns as opposed to “undercutting high street booksellers by 100%”.