So when student Natasha Markham heard about a whole skipful of books, she felt compelled to try and salvage some. She climbed right in and rescued about 700, including some on her own dissertation topic. Then she turned her flat into a free pop-up bookshop.
The range covered everything from fiction to history and vegan cooking but the majority were academic.
“To be honest, it was a library,” Markham said. “It wasn't just someone getting rid of a certain topic. There was something for everyone. It's too sad to see a collection of beautiful books, in brilliant condition, on amazing, fascinating topics get wasted. Some of these titles I know because I've either bought them or couldn't afford these wonderful books. It was just too sad.”
A member of The Meadows Share community Facebook group had come across the skip in Morningside and confirmed with the owner that he was disposing of the lot. They then posted a plea to book lovers on the group to drop by and save what they could, prompting Markham to have a look after work.
“So a few people went through it, and then me and my partner went and there was still a huge amount left. It was quite overwhelming, so people only took a few and then they went,” Markham said.
“At that point, everyone was sort of picking around the skip, but it was relatively large, as skips are, so I decided to climb in it and see if I could get to the bottom and start loading things onto the side.”
After getting stuck in and sorting through the books she wanted to keep, Markham realised she may be the last hope for the rest too, as it was set to rain later that evening.
“So at the time, I was like, I'll take a few. I have a car and I got my licence recently, so I thought I could pop back and grab some more. And then it got late and it was clear that nobody was going to take the rest and they were going to get rained on.
“Some of the books had already been damaged due to the weather earlier on in the day.
“It’s sad because a lot of them were pretty much brand new. He obviously collected them and they just got ruined in the rain and he’d thrown some plants in there, which was sad to see and made it all a muddy mix.”
Markham decided to bring all the remaining books back to her flat in Grassmarket and luckily another couple were there to help with the loading process.
“I brought some bags. We started loading the car and I just sort of drove back and forth filling bags with books and unloading them out at my flat. It got a bit more efficient as the night went on.”
Markham made six trips to and from Morningside to her flat.
“It was something like a 15-minute drive so it did eat up a wee bit of fuel. I have a little Nissan Micra, not built for book carrying! We loaded it as high as it could go but so I was still confident it would get up the hill.”
Markham added: “It was just a team effort to get them out of the rain and get them dry before their pages got ruined. Not super exciting, just a lot of labour back and forth."
When she made the final trip, the skip was empty. Markham estimates that in total she had salvaged around 700 volumes. The next step was to clean, dry and organise the books to get them re-homed.
“We just brought them in and the worst ones were put on the heaters. Then the rest were kind of opened as much as possible. It did take over the flat 100 per cent. I've got a little Yorkshire terrier, and he was practising his obstacle skills as best he could. He got very fit!”
The next day, Markham posted on The Meadows Share letting people know the books were ready to go and set up a Covid-safe pop-up bookshop in her hallway, free of charge for all takers.
“We just categorised them and then I gave people my address and essentially said for the next couple of days, we would make sure there was always someone at home to open the door and keep the categories organised. People were really good actually, in terms of waiting and keeping the distance, which was nice, and wearing masks and things.”
Within a few days, most of the books were gone apart from the piles Markham had decided to keep and some of the more damaged ones that still required a little extra attention.
Markham is still unsure as to why the collection was being tipped in the first place but with charity shops being closed she believes the owner may have felt they didn’t have any other choice.
She is currently doing her dissertation on Scottish nationalism and found piles of books on the subject in the skip. One person’s rubbish is another person's treasure, indeed.
If you are looking to have a clearout community Facebook groups are a great way to get rid of your unwanted goods sustainably.
To get helpful guidance on how to recycle books in Edinburgh take a look at change works who even have a handy map.