A small book publisher in Argentina is offering a book that can grow back into a tree after you’re done reading it. The publishing house, Pequeño Editor, says this is “a book that returns to nature what it took from it” and that it is the “first book that can be planted after it is read.”
The project, called Tree Book Tree, uses acid-free paper impregnated with Jacaranda seeds, a species of flowering tree native to Central and South America. The book is then printed with biodegradable ink. To promote the concept, the publisher has created terrariums that demonstrate the sprouting books.
The book's title is "Mi papá estuvo en la selva" (My dad was in the jungle), by Gusti Llimpi and Anne Decis. According to the publisher’s website, the story is told from the point of view of a young boy and is based on a true story from the Ecuadorian jungle. The story has a strong ecological message, and when one is done reading, the message could be underscored by planting the book itself.
The book is part of a growing trend of seed-embedded paper products, from cups to wrapping paper to makeup packaging, which aim to reduce waste by encouraging the user to plant the item instead of throwing it away. While some of these products are embedded with vegetable or herb seeds intended for a garden, other types of seeds can pose a problem if planted in the wild. For example, a business card embedded with wildflower seeds should only be planted in areas where those flowers are native, otherwise there’s a risk of spreading invasive species.
There can also be issues with exporting these products, as Katy Perry learned when her flower-infused album packaging was labeled a “biohazard” by Australian authorities who barred its import. So let’s hope “Mi papá estuvo en la selva” is only aimed at markets where Jacaranda trees already grow.
Although planting a book is definitely better for the environment than putting it in a landfill, I can’t say that it’s more sustainable than other uses for a children’s book. After all, books aren’t usually treated as disposable, unlike some of the other seed-embedded paper products out there. Children’s books in particular are often re-read many times, while libraries, charity sales and hand-me-downs are all easy ways to find a new reader for books when someone else is finished with it. Nonetheless, Tree Book Tree is interesting as a kind of conceptual art project, and could offer young readers a valuable hands-on learning experience.