INVESTIGATION: Do book companies recycle books for tax breaks, instead of donating to local schools?

Posted at 7:50 PM, Aug 18, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-18 19:50:33-04

A former employee of a recycling company in Medina told that he was ordered to shred thousands of seemingly mint-condition books from McGraw Hill and was told he could not donate them because they qualified for a tax write-off. 

The employee, who asked not to be identified, worked at Medina Recycling and said it took his crew approximately two months to shred thousands of McGraw Hill books delivered to the site. The products included student and teacher editions of text books, children’s books and science kits. 

The former employee said that some of the products were still wrapped in plastic and he felt that the majority of the books were salvageable for donation to local grade schools and preschools. 

“But when I asked, they said nobody was allowed to remove them, no one’s allowed to touch them,” he said. “Just throw them straight into the grinder.” 

He told that the plant had a contract with McGraw Hill-Education.

“They said well it’s the tax incentive. You make more money recycling these books than you would if you were to donate them to school in need,” he said. turned to a group of tax experts to determine whether that could be true. Tax Planning & Preparation Expert Mark Sipos said unsold books could be considered “obsolete product” and would be eligible for a 100 percent write-off. But according to Section 170 of the IRS Tax Code, donations would be limited to 10 percent of taxable income. 

Against company policy, the employee saved hundreds of the books from the shredder, donating many to local school districts and preschools and keeping others for his young child. 

“I literally felt wrong for shredding them,” the employee explained, showing the piles to  

Medina Recycling President Dale Roberts would not confirm whether his business has a contract with McGraw-Hill Education. 

“If we sign a contract with anybody we do business with, we sign a contract that the books are destroyed,” Roberts explained.  He said that’s why employees are not allowed to remove books from the site. 

Roberts said the companies selling old books are tasked with the responsibility of sorting out which books should be saved and which should be recycled. 

“They’re the experts in that industry so they would know if that book can be used somewhere else,” he said. “If it can’t be, then we’re going to have the opportunity to buy it.” 

McGraw-Hill Education would not confirm whether the company has a contract with Medina Recycling. A spokesperson did not respond to multiple requests for an in-person interview. 

A spokesperson said the company donated more than $4.1 million worth of books in 2015 and $200 million worth since they began a donation program in 1998. 

“We do recycle books, generally under two different circumstances: 1) When items are returned and are not resellable (i.e. Damaged). And 2) when items are out of date or have been updated and they could not otherwise be donated,” an email read, in part.  

McGraw-Hill Education told that recycled books resulted in the diversion of approximately 4,400 tons from the municipal waste stream last year. 

The collection of books surveyed by did include many older editions of textbooks. But the majority of the books were children’s storybooks. 

So brought the books to a local preschool to see if they would be useful.  

Hobby Horse Preschool Director Xanthe Phillips told that books — no matter how updated — are in desperate need in local classrooms. 

“I can’t look at any of theses and think that they’re outdated,” Phillips said. “This could go such a long way. So it’s just really incredible to me that they think they’re worth shredding.”

Medina City Schools Superintendent Aaron Sable told that they’re always interested in potential donations to support students in the district. While textbook donations could be more difficult, supporting materials like storybooks would be easy to accept.