Kindle on book

Will Kindles save the rainforest? Now that Amazon’s debuted its new $359 Kindle, an e-reader available Feb. 24, e-reader and e-book marketers alike are busy big upping the eco-creds of digital reading. After all, reading an e-book on an e-reader like Kindle can save many many trees from being felled to make paper books, right?

Unfortunately, the answer to this paper vs. paperless reading question doesn’t come easily. For one, research that compares the two types of reading is scarce. The main relevant report analyzing the impact of paper books is Environmental Trends and Climate Impacts: Findings from the U.S. Book Industry, put together last year by the Book Industry Study Group and the Green Press Initiative. The conclusion: Each paper U.S. book releases an average of 8.85 pounds of carbon dioxide! However, no comparable analysis was done for e-books.

In fact, I’m not sure there can ever be a definitive answer to this issue — mainly because people use e-readers differently than they do paper books. For example, the Kindle can be used to read not just books, but your favorite blogs, newspapers and other text-intensive matter. In fact, this new version of Kindle can read to you — replacing audio tapes and CDs, the effect of which would have to be somehow figured into a digital vs. paper / tape / CD comparison.

And of course, the carbon footprint of a book read is vastly different for a driver that gas-guzzles her Hummer to a faraway chain bookstore for a brand new book printed on virgin paper than for a borrower who bikes to her LEED-certified library to check out a pre-loved, much-read book. Plus, some e-readers use gadgets they already have — cell phones or Blackberries — to read e-books, while others buy a brand new gadget. Those choices also weigh into the carbon footprint equation.

Which is to say: I’m not for or against e-books OR paper books. I own a Sony Reader — and while I don’t use it all that much, I like the fact that I can download classics for free using Project Gutenberg to read at my leisure.

If you do read e-books, here are my tips: Make sure you unplug both your e-reading gadget AND its adapter when they’re not charging up. You’ll prevent the devices from leaching vampire power — and you’ll save yourself some money on power bills, too. Use your e-reader for as long as possible, resisting the urge to upgrade with every new tech advance and create unnecessary e-waste. And once your e-reader has run its course, take the item to your nearest e-waste facility so it’ll be recycled properly.

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