Can E-readers Help the Environment?
While books, magazines and newspapers may still attract people who want a physical object to read, many are turning to digital means of reading: e-readers. While the technology has been around since the ’70s, the technology didn’t take off until 2007 with the introduction of Amazon’s Kindle. This technology allows people to have hundreds of books on hand without cutting down any trees or adding to any landfills.
Although E-readers are still a niche technology, selling around a total of 3 million units in 2009, the incorporation of this technology worldwide could make a significant impact on the environment. According to a report done by Cleantech, any carbon emitted by the Kindle in its lifetime is offset its first year of use. In fact Emma Ritch, the author of said report, states: “Any additional years of use result in net carbon savings, equivalent to an average of 168 kg of CO2 per year (the emissions produced in the manufacture and distribution of 22.5 books)” and that betwen 2009-2012, e-reader purchases and usage could prevent 5.3 billion kg of CO2[Source: Cleantech]. Printed media harvests around 125 million trees per year, and printed books have the highest per-unit carbon footprint (which includes raw materials, paper production, transportation, etc). 25-30% of the books sent out are returned to publishers where they are then either recycled, thrown out or incinerated [Source: New York Times].
Even though E-readers may save trees, the amount of carbon emission during its production is much higher than standard books, about 168 kilograms of carbon dioxide compared to 7.46 kilograms for a book [Source: CNET]. And of course there’s always the problem of electronic waste. Many electronic devices use the highly toxic plastic polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which can leach out of these plastic products into our groundwater and soil. While Apple has stated that their iPad does not contain any PVC, the Kindle and many other e-readers have not been able to provide evidence of the same [Source: New York Times]. Despite problems with waste, one of the major drawbacks of the E-readers is the fact that they still require electricity from a fossil-fueled power source. To combat this problem, the Korean company, LG, created a solar-powered e-reader that uses thin solar cell technology in order to provide electricity to the device [Source: Tech News World]. Unfortunately, LG is currrently the only corporation that has released a solar e-reader.
While there are positives and negatives to the e-reader, in the end if the publishers do not decrease the amount of new books created every year, then the problem will not be solved. Still, the benefits of printed media still outweigh e-readers for various reasons:
1. you can easily lend a book/newspaper/magazine to a friend
2. easier to keep your place and just the tactile sensation of turning the page
3. there is a very large market for used books. Buying used means that you do not kill any trees and leads to smaller carbon emissions…or go to a local library.
All in all, e-readers may become the wave of the future, but there is still a ways to go for them to be truly environmentally friendly.