Electronic Books: Better for Environment?

One of the defining peices of technology for my generation is the electronic book, like the iPad and the Kindle. These are widly popular for many reasons, one of them being that everyone wants to be all tech-savvy to increase their awesomeness level, but the other is that these electronic books are thought to be better for the environment. Which seems perfectly legitimate, we don’t have to cut down so many trees to make trillions of sheets of paper to be used for the constant flow of books being published around the world.

But is it really that simple?

In this article by the New York Times, the benefits of e-books to the environment are examined, and the results are pretty surprising.

Many steps are examined, like the materials used to make the e-book versus a paper book. One single e-book requires the extraction of 33 pounds of minerals including exotic metals that are mined in war-torn countries like Africa. A regular book made with recycled paper inly uses 2/3 of a pound of minerals, and that’s really searching for an argument, because the article says most of that 2/3 of a pound comes from the gravel on the roads used to transport the books. “An e-reader also requires 79 gallons of water to produce its batteries and printed wiring boards, and in refining metals like the gold used … in the circuits”.

In the article, many more surprising comparisons are made in processes such as manufacturing, transportation, wasting energy reading on an e-book in the daylight compared to a book, and disposal.

I expected the comparison relating to disposal of the e-book and the regular book, but I was particularly shocked by this fact:

“If your book ends up in a landfill, its decomposition generates double the global warming emissions and toxic impacts on local water systems as its manufacture”.

The electronic industries that are making these e-books are working to decrease the amount of toxic chemicals used to produce the machines. But for now, the combined disadvantages to the environment for an e-book heavily outweigh those of an old-fashioned paper book. So instead of making a $200 investment on an electronic book, just go borrow a real one for free.


By: Bridgette Potts


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