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Bay’s Biggest Book Sale Mounts National Challenge To Solve Environmental And Literacy Issues

In its 37th year, the Tauranga Rotary Book Sale is putting out a challenge to New Zealand literacy, environmental, and sustainability experts: help us repurpose and recycle unsold books.

The March 2024 event will mark its 37th year. The sale has a loyal following of both donors and buyers. Normally over 100,000 books are collected, sorted, and priced, attracting thousands of book bargain hunters over 3 days.

Organiser Max Toy says since its inception, over $1.5 million has been donated to the local Western Bay community as a result of the event’s success.

“The event involves over 100 friends and volunteers to make it happen. We usually raise between 50k-100k each year, with books ranging from $1-$10, with special books priced higher according to their rarity, and the best going up for tender.”

But it’s not the event that Max and his team are looking for help with, it’s the conundrum of unsold books that remains afterwards.

“We inevitably have hundreds of unsold books at the end of the event. In the past we have been forced to send a lot of books to landfill and we want this to change,” says Max.

“We have set the audacious goal of recycling or repurposing 80% of unsold books by the 40th anniversary of the event in three years’ time.

“We’re putting out a call to New Zealanders to help us with this, to think about how we can solve this problem as it’s not going away and it’s not unique to our book sale either. The issues surrounding recycling and repurposing of books are ongoing.”

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The book market in NZ was up over 8% year on year 2020-21 (according to Nielsen BookData). So we need to find new ways of dealing with the life of a book and its use.

Literacy is also a well-documented issue across New Zealand with a report last year by Dr Nian Hood of Education Hub noting that just 35% of students in year eight are achieving at or above the curriculum level for writing, while reading ability at both primary and secondary school levels is steadily declining. “Only 60% of 15-year-olds in New Zealand are achieving above the most basic level of reading, meaning a staggering 40% are struggling to read and write,” wrote Hood. The decline in writing ability appears to be of particular concern.

“Between our environmental and sustainability specialists, as well as book and literacy educators and experts, and a dash of kiwi ingenuity, there must be a way to better deal with the life of a book so that it is well used, well loved, or recycled in an effective way if its life has come to an end,” says Max.

“Reducing the number of unsold books to landfill is a key issue that we want to tackle. Solutions and partnerships to address this such as repurposing, recycling, storage, are being developed and potential partners are being identified for approaches.

“In the past one of our key volunteers with close contacts with Fiji, has supplied a portion of our unsold books to the Pacific Islands libraries, as well as to Niue for primary schools, collages, and adult reading. Dictionaries have been given to local Western Bay schools as well. So we know that there are other routes other than landfill for our unsold books. We just have to find them.”

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