Are e-Readers really as environmentally-friendly and green as is it always claimed?
by Michael Smith (Veshengro)
Many in the green movement and the industry obviously also try to make the e-Reader to be the best thing since slices bread, not that the latter is much good either, and make claims for it that just do not add up.
Despite the notion that if you read enough books on them, they'll have a lighter footprint than printed books, the reality is something less appealing altogether. First of all it will have to be a great many books you will have to read on it and then there are the other bits that also come along.
The claim as to not using paper saving the forests, and many misguided and misinformed individuals and even organizations keep claiming that reducing the use of paper would save the rainforest, is also false.
For one no tropical rainforest trees are used in the making of paper. They are simply unsuitable for the making of pulp for the making of paper as they are hardwoods and in fact very hard hardwoods most of them. Softwoods are used for the making of paper, predominately coniferous woods, with the exception of a few deciduous trees the wood of which can be used for paper making, such as poplar.
In fact, if we would stop using paper altogether, not that that is going to happen very soon, many millions of acres of forests would be grubbed out and the lands used for something else. It is the paper companies, with a few exceptions, that use timber from their own forests for the making of their paper and paper products and if they would no longer have a market then those trees would stop being grown.
Thus, if we look at it properly, the paper industry, rather than the enemy could actually be seen as a friend as the forests that they are growing and replant when they fell the trees, are a carbon sink and also a green lung.
In addition to that each book that is printed, read and kept on people's bookshelves thereafter in perpetuity, more or less, also has the carbon that the trees that have been used for the paper it is printed on locked up in itself. Not something that one could say for an e-Reader now could one.
The increased consumption of print and digital books has led to an ever-increasing demand for the materials required to create, transport, and store them. In the case of e-books, though, vast amounts of materials are also necessary for the e-Readers themselves. This is something typically, and one could say, conveniently, overlooked by proponents of digitization: the material costs are either ignored, or, more misleadingly, they are classified as the byproduct of the tech industry instead of the book industry. In other words, the carbon footprint of the digital book industry is mostly growing in addition to, not to the detriment of, the growing carbon footprint of the print book industry.
An e-Reader, then, accounts for an initial carbon footprint 200-250% greater than your typical household library, and it increases every time you get a new e-Reader. Also, these figures simply calculate the impact one person’s consumption has on the environment. If you live in a household with multiple e-Readers the carbon emissions of your family are more than 600-750% higher per year than they would be if you invested in a bunch of bookshelves or, better yet, a library card.
In addition we have to consider that an E-Reader's lifespan is limited. It has obsolescence factored in, in the same way as is being done with all electronic devices and with many other appliances as well. This lifespan is about three years, give or take, and often it is the take part.
In addition to that, to all intents and purposes, you do not own the e-books you have purchased to do with as you please. You may not, legally, pass them on to another person, unlike you can do with a printed book and on no account are you permitted to resell. In fact Amazon.com assumes that it retains ownership over the e-books you have bought from them to such an extent even that they – though they had reverse that – deleted books from people's devices because they have had them long enough and thus should have read them by that time.
A printed book you can do with as you please. You can keep it, you can give it away or you can even sell it again. Unless it is a review copy of a book – as they frequently come to me – which then means that you are legally prevented from selling it.
Such a book, in the same way as a printed magazine, if passed on, may be read by many more people and thus, in fact, no new copy is going to have to be produced. This, yet again, makes the printed book superior to the e-book on an e-Reader.
Stick with paper. Better for the Planet for sure. Or with PDFs. You can read the latter on your computer or print it out. I prefer doing the latter with PDF books and publications. The PDF which you can print out has the best of both worlds and as there are no transportation costs, etc. rates highest. E-Readers, on the other hand, are bad for your wallet and the Planet.