Green Books 3: Paper vs E-reader
It’s one of the hot topics for many people who love reading – to buy an e-reader or not.
I admit – I love books. Real books with paper pages. Plus I’m not a gadget person – I don’t even have a mobile phone. I can’t imagine using an e-reader but I do want to find out whether my old fashioned attitude is environmentally damaging or not!
Comparing the environmental impact of e-readers and books is tricky. Most companies aren’t exactly transparent about the environmental impact of their e-readers for a start!
Measuring the carbon footprint at the consumer end is relatively easy, though statistics I’ve read vary from 10 – 100 books being the number you need to read on an e-reader to reduce its carbon footprint to below that of new paperback books. So, if you read a lot it you can reduce your carbon footprint by buying an e-reader as long as you aren’t tempted to upgrade it too often.
But environmental impact is about much more than carbon footprint.
What about production methods? E-readers contain coltan – a controversial mineral that is linked to environmental and social injustices including fuelling conflict in the Congo.
What about e-waste? Tonnes of computers, mobile phones and (in the near future, e-readers) are discarded every year, filling large landfill sites often in the developing world where thousands of people are employed to extract the valuable minerals with great hazards to their health. Yes this is recycling, but with unacceptable side effects.
In most comparisons between e-readers and books, the paper books used for the comparison are new books made with paper from virgin pulp. Publishers are slowly moving towards using more recycled paper in their books, which reduces the environmental impact of new books. And if you read library books or buy second hand books then you are reusing books – a very environmentally friendly activity.
For more information:
Centre for Alternative Technology’s analysis of the environmental impact of a new paperback book.
Wikipedia page on e-waste.
Information on the film Blood in the Mobile about the environmental and social impact of coltan mining.
(This series of posts is based on a similar series I wrote for Brighton Blogger in 2012).
As ever, bold text contains hyperlinks that take you to other webpages where you can read more.