BOULDER — Eco-Cycle educators Karen Swigart and Kary Schumpert spend most of their days in Boulder County schools, teaching kids about forestry, hazardous waste, indoor air quality and, of course, recycling.
But a few times throughout the week, they hunker down in the former Boulder Emergency Services building on Old Pearl Street to sift through discarded books in hopes of saving some for children in need.
“We noticed that some of the books could be used and thought we should go through them and at least give them to kids,” Swigart said.
Eco-Cycle’s Children’s Used Book Project, now in its second year, has since placed 13,500 salvaged books into the hands of area children; another 1,000 books were donated to children in the regions affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
Eco-Cycle began accepting books for recycling at its Boulder location, 5030 Pearl St., about three years ago, Swigart said.
Residents, businesses and schools can drop off books to be recycled in a green bin labeled “BOOKS” at the Eco-Cycle/City of Boulder Center for Hard to Recycle Materials.
Swigart and Schumpert then sift and flip through hundreds of books. Those that are stained, torn, written in or outdated are placed aside for recycling; their covers are removed and their pages shredded by a machine. Books good enough for reuse are sorted into age-appropriate categories from preschool through middle school. Each is labeled with a sticker about the Eco-Cycle project.
“You see some books,” Schumpert said, “and you would just want to get this book into the hands of a child. Or I would say, ‘Oh, this was my favorite book,’ or Karen would say, ‘Oh, I read this to my son.’
“Maybe a family who has a home without books can now have them.”
The books are distributed to about 20 local charities and nonprofit organizations that work directly with children and families in need, such as Dental Aid, Salud Health Clinic and the Homeless Education program with the St. Vrain Valley School District, Swigart said.
Eco-Cycle received a letter from Clinica Campesina that said: “We keep the books in the waiting room, so the children are entertained before their appointments ... without a TV! The books stir their imaginations and light their desire to read more.”
Swigart said children get to keep the books they are given through this project.
“We want to give them books they would be proud to have,” Swigart said as she and Schumpert flipped through books, ranging from a pristine paperback about SpongeBob SquarePants to a slightly tattered Shel Silverstein classic to a well-loved first edition of “Charlotte’s Web.”
“It just depends on the book supply — just whatever people have sent here,” Swigart said. “We get some nice books. We kind of wonder why people are throwing them away.”
Swigart could not estimate how many books the pair have saved through the used-book project, but they distributed more than 4,000 books this fall alone.
Swigart said Eco-Cycle encourages people with unwanted but usable books to first contact charities and organizations that might want them before dropping them off at Eco-Cycle.
“With all these books,” Swigart said, “hopefully, maybe, they’ll become lifelong readers.”
Melanie M. Sidwell can be reached at 303-684-5274, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.