One piece of reducing our waste is to use things more than once after they are produced. This is an ancient tradition, but one that was branded as “old-fashioned” during the rise of the consumer/convenience culture of the 1950's and beyond. It is time to bring it back. But if we are going to present “being green” as a sustainable, positive live choice, we have to keep the convenience part.
I go to the bookstore or library in one of two modes: Browse mode or Get mode. In Browse mode, I'm looking for a good book in an approximate area. In Get mode, I know what book or author I'm after and I want a very short experience of locating that book. I may browse after, but if I don't get my book, I am very likely to leave without browsing. That's me acting on convenience. I want what I want pretty close to now.
The problem with most used bookstores is they are set up exclusively for browsing. They are more like junkyards than hardware stores. Books are chunked into rough areas and if I'm okay with any good sci-fi or drawing book, I'll probably find something. But if I'm looking for The Dancing Wu Li Masters or to replace my copy of Creating Affluence which has disappeared, I'm either going to have to buy new or order it on-line and wait.
I think there are a couple of models for used bookstores that could benefit more book stores, but also other purveyors of used stuff:
Treat used books (stuff) like new books. At Powell's, you can look up a book, find the number and then go to the shelf and pick new or used. My local indie bookstore also does this, and I think it's brilliant. I love being able to plan a trip there knowing I will be able to find a copy of the book I want.
Specialize. Comic book stores do this. They pick a genre and stock used and new books in that area. This increases the chances of success while browsing.
I have two used bookstores in biking distance. Both of them have really random assortments of stuff. Right now, I drive by the big one and hear myself thinking, “Oh! They're open. I should go look. Wait, is there anything I want right now? I do want that book by Deepak Chopra... what are the chances I can find it there? Not very good. Oh well. I can go home and read the one I have.” If the two stores worked out a trade where the small one had biographies and spiritual books, and the big one had the great cooking an literature and gardening sections, I'd visit both of them more often.
Another piece of the used book puzzle is that at some point books really are outdated. The number of 1970's mass-market books on redecorating vastly outweigh the demand. So, what do you do with them? I asked the guy behind the counter at one of the stores and he admitted, sadly, that part of his job means throwing books away. I think that anytime you have to send something to the dump, there's a potential innovation there. You can't recycle mass market books because the paper pulp used is so low quality that it won't withstand another cycle. So my thought is to round 'em up and use them in biomass heaters. Any other ideas?