Book reviewers urge publishers to use recyclable packaging

Book reviewers urge publishers to use recyclable packaging

A group of books journalists have written an open letter urging publishers to reconsider the packaging they use to send out books.

Spearheaded by book reviewers Sarra Manning, Nina Pottell, Sarah Shaffi, Francesca Brown and Fanny Blake, the letter laments the mountains of packaging they get sent that is "destined for landfill", and has called on publishers to switch to using recyclable materials when sending out books for review.

The letter has been backed by over 100 people, including authors Sarah Perry, Jon McGregor and Nikesh Shukla, alongside other industry figures such as literary agents Jo Unwin and Julia Kingsford.

It reads: "As book reviewers, we receive thousands of books each year through the post, the majority of them sent in padded envelopes which are not recyclable, as the plastic and paper making up these envelopes needs to be separated before being recycled separately."

Separating the paper and plastic from these envelopes is time consuming, and reusing them all – hundreds each year per person – is also unrealistic, said the reviewers.

In light of this, the group said: "We ask you, where possible, to switch to using packaging which is recyclable and therefore environmentally friendly. Alternatives include cardboard packaging or padded envelopes which use paper instead of plastic for the stuffing.

"We would also urge you to keep packaging as minimal as possible and only use multiple envelopes or extra padding in the rare instances when material for review needs extra protection. Recycling conserves resources, saves energy and reduces landfill. We ask that publishers do their bit to help protect the environment."

Shaffi told The Bookseller that the idea for the letter grew out of a discussion with a number of book reviewers who were all frustrated by the amount of unrecyclable packaging they receive.

"Between us we get thousands of books every year through the post. Only a tiny fraction of these are sent in recyclable packaging; the rest come in padded envelopes such as Jiffy bags, which can't be recycled without separating the paper from the plastic, which is awkward to do and very time consuming", Shaffi said. "We, plus many other journalists and reviewers, want to see publishers using recyclable packaging where possible. There are alternatives, including cardboard and green Jiffy bags (which are padded with paper)."

She added: "This letter, which has been signed by more than 100 people already including authors whose books are sent out to us for review, will be sent out to publishers. Some publishers do already use recyclable packaging, and I hope the letter will encourage others to consider their impact on the environment and the way this small change could make a difference to their footprint."

Responses to the letter has so far been positive. Penguin Random House imprint Allen Lane has said its publicity team is "looking at alternative packaging as we speak", and there have also been a "number" of publicists who have said they will raise the question of recyclable packaging with colleagues, said Shaffi.

A spokesperson for PRH said: "“We are committed to reducing our environmental impact and recognise that more needs to be done to tackle this specific issue. As a result we are reviewing our internal policies and mail-out procedures.”

Similarly, Jenny Fry, communications director at Canongate, told The Bookseller: "We’ve been making our books from sustainable sources for some time, but this letter is a useful reminder that there’s more we could and should be doing. We’ll definitely look at more environmentally friendly ways of getting those books to reviewers."

A spokesperson for Bloomsbury added: "We normally use recyclable cardboard sleeves. Sometimes, for special mailings, we use jiffy bags (often coloured jiffy bags, to make them stand out in the post), but the majority of our mailings across the company are using recyclable cardboard."

Meanwhile, Scottish indie Black and White tweeted: "This is a great initiative! We've asked some of the publishers that have mentioned that they use eco-friendly packaging [...] for recs, and will be looking to make a change!"

And Jane Commane of Nine Arches Press said: "We fully support the letter and think it's an excellent idea. As a new Arts Council England National Portfolio organisation, part of our recent work was to create an environmental action plan which made us think much more carefully about the waste we generate and how we could reduce it.

"One really simple step has been to switch to 100% recyclable and biodegradable mail packaging this year and this has been much easier than we expected, and only slightly more expensive than non recyclable padded envelopes. We think it's worthwhile if it makes a contribution to reducing waste and single use plastics and urge other publishers to take note of the letter and follow suit."