E-Readers are one of the most popular ways to read digital books. They are the closest you can get to reading on real paper, but digitally. This is due to the E INK e-paper technology that is easy on the eyes and can be used to read for hours at a time, without any eyestrain. E INK has just announced that in the past 5 years, 130 million e-Readers have been in use globally, replacing the purchase of paper editions of books. It is estimated that paper books would emit more than 100,000 times the CO2 versus e-Readers with an E Ink display and LCD devices would emit more than 50 times the CO2 versus e-Readers throughout that time.
In order to fully understand the C02 situation with paper and e-readers, we have to dig a little deeper than what E INK proclaimed in a press release. Paper and e-readers both have different kinds of pollution and waste that are quite different. With readers, the main pollutant is the manufacture of the battery and the screen. Manufacturing rechargeable batteries and computer components has a very large impact.
The production and use of paper has a number of adverse effects on the environment which are known collectively as paper pollution. Pulp mills contribute to air, water and land pollution. Discarded paper is a major component of many landfill sites, accounting for about 35% of municipal solid waste .Even paper recycling can be a source of pollution due to the sludge produced during de-inking. The manufacture and distribution of paper production, in books, both are decidedly ungreen.
e-Readers require complex batteries and screens as the bulk of their carbon footprint. In order to develop them companies need to engage in the mining of nonrenewable minerals, like columbite-tantalite, which sometimes come from politically unstable regions such as the Congo. And experts can’t seem to agree on whether we’re at risk of exhausting the world’s supply of lithium, the lifeblood of the e-reader’s battery.
Emma Ritch conducted a story on the carbon footprint of a Kindle e-Reader vs paperback books. “There is roughly 168 kg of CO2 produced throughout the Kindle’s lifecycle and 1,074 kg of CO2 if you purchase three books a month for four years; and up to 26,098 kg of CO2 when used to the fullest capacity of the Kindle DX. Less-frequent readers attracted by decreasing prices still can break even at 22.5 books over the life of the device,” she wrote in conclusion.
The Cleantech Group argues that the electronic reader industry can make a significant impact once people start transitioning from paper media en masse: “A user that purchasers fewer than 22.5 books per year would take longer to neutralize the emissions resulting from the e-reader, and even longer to help reduce emissions attributed to the publishing industry,” according to the study.
Nick Moran of The Millions had interesting prospective, mentioning “The emissions and e-waste for e-Readers could be stretched even further if I went down the resource rabbit hole to factor in: electricity needed at the Amazon and Apple data centers; communication infrastructure needed to transmit digital files across vast distances; the incessant need to recharge or replace the batteries of e-Readers; the resources needed to recycle a digital device (compared to how easy it is to pulp or recycle a book); the packaging and physical mailing of digital devices; the need to replace a device when it breaks (instead of replacing a book when it’s lost); the fact that every reader of eBooks requires his or her own e-Reading device (whereas print books can be loaned out as needed from a library); the fact that most digital devices are manufactured abroad and therefore transported across oceans.
The Book vs e-Reader argument really centers around the co2 emissions and production involved in the entire process. One facet most people don’t consider is water. The newspaper and book publishing industries together consume 153 billion gallons of water annually, according to the nonprofit Green Press Initiative. It takes about seven gallons to produce the average printed book, while e-publishing companies can create a digital book with less than two cups of water.
Michael Kozlowski has written about audiobooks and e-readers for the past twelve years. Newspapers and websites such as the CBC, CNET, Engadget, Huffington Post and the New York Times have picked up his articles. He Lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.