Last week, a reader asked the Eco Women which is more eco friendly: books or e-readers, such as the Kindle or the Nook. The Eco Women had a lively email debate on the topic and expressed their opinions, then Recycla did more research and came up with the following:
The publishing industry is one of the world’s largest polluting sectors — for example, in 2008, the U.S. book and newspaper industries combined resulted in 125 million trees being cut down, which doesn’t even get into chemicals used during production or the two industries’ massive carbon footprint.
Books that are bought at a bookstore are made of raw materials, then those books are transported to the bookstore, which uses fossil fuels. If the books are purchased, then more fossil fuels are used to transport them from store to residence; however, anywhere from 25-36% of all books are shipped back from the store to the publisher, which uses even more fossil fuels. Those book are then incinerated, recycled, or simply thrown away — again, more waste.
E-readers also create waste when produced, but the processes aren’t quite as wasteful. Furthermore, according to an article in the New York Times, the carbon used to create an Amazon Kindle is offset after the first year of use. The Cleantech Group conducted a study* that concluded that purchasing three e-books per month for four years produces roughly 370 pounds of CO2 throughout the Kindle’s lifetime, compared to the estimated 2,368 pounds of CO2 produced by the same number of printed books. (Recycla has not been able to find a study that compares the production of the Kindle, the Nook, the iPad, and other e-readers.)
Of course, this does not mean that e-readers are not without environmental impact themselves. Most electronics are well known to contain toxic materials and chemicals. Unfortunately, Recycla has not been able to find a good report on the chemicals and processes used. From what she can tell, the makers of e-readers are keeping that information quiet.
So which way to go? It depends on your reading habits. If you only read books from the library, stick with that plan because it is the most environmentally friendly. If you prefer to buy books, consider going to used bookstores or using Paperback Swap.
If, however, you buy books and you want them right now (as opposed to waiting to find the right secondhand book), then the next question is how much do you read? According to Emma Ritch of the Cleantech Group, “It’s not just buying e-books that matters. The key is they displace the purchase of 22.5 physical books.” So, if you read at least 23 books a year and don’t trade in your e-reader every year or two for a newer model, the e-reader is the way to go. And, when you do need to replace your e-reader, please do so responsibly. Either pass it along to someone else or, if it is broken beyond repair, go to Earth 911 to find out where you can recycle electronics in your area.
Among the Eco Women, some have e-readers, some do not. All agree that there’s nothing that beats the feel of paper in your hands, but agree that e-readers are incredibly useful and efficient. All of the Eco Women are avid readers and have large personal libraries in which they’re constantly struggling to find more shelf space for their books, so they understand the appeal of having most of their libraries stored on a small bit of electronics.
As for Kindle vs. Nook vs. other e-readers, well, that choice is all on you and the Eco Women aren’t going to tell you which one is best. One Eco Woman has a Kindle, another is planning to get a Kindle, one has an iPad, and the rest are still on the fence.
Tell the Eco Women: Do you have an e-reader? Why or why not? And, if you do, which one do you have?
*To read the Cleantech Group’s study, click here.
Photo credits: Yahoo Images.