Is your e-reader greener than a book?
Shocking statistics reveal the carbon footprint of the paper industry.
Monday, August 15, 2011 - 12:14
It appears that e-readers are taking over the stage of popular reading materials. I have heard many people in the library where I work saying that libraries are outdated. Since I am a library employee, I am naturally biased about this whole e-book revolution.
I decided to do some research on the carbon footprints of books and electronic book readers. I was shocked to discover that one book has a pretty hefty carbon footprint: 8.85 pounds of CO2 produced per average book. So as I look around my room at the piles and piles of books I have accumulated over the years, I know my carbon footprint is hefty, as well.
I figure I have about 150 books, which makes my carbon footprint about 1,327 pounds of CO2 (in books alone!). This is a stunning figure, especially coupled with the number of trees that are cut down annually to produce books in the U.S.: a staggering 30 million.
Some efforts are being made to replant trees and to harvest trees only in environmentally sound ways. An increase in the use of post consumer waste recycled paper is becoming popular, but as of 2007 the rate of recycled paper content in six paper mills was only 13.3 percent. So there is plenty of room to grow and improve.
The benefits of an e-reader
An e-reader offers a paper-free alternative to regular book reading, but each of these gadget readers has its own substantial carbon footprint. Roughly 168 kilograms of carbon dioxide are produced throughout a Kindle's lifecycle. That includes production, packaging and the charging of the battery needed to keep up with the pace of an avid reader. I also figure that any repairs over its lifecycle will add to its carbon footprint.
I think of e-readers as I do any electronic item: they perform well, but after a while, wiring gets old, screens get scratched, USB ports get damaged. It's a cradle-to-grave lifecycle, although metals from electronics can be recycled and used for similar products. I definitely am a fan of new technology, and not only do Nooks and Kindles revolutionize reading, they save millions of trees from being cut down.
In the end, I'm still a book person. I can't even tell you how many of the books I have on my shelves are ones I found at garage sales and rummage sales. Also, I can lend a book to a friend anytime, so it saves that person having to go out and buy one. But if you're like me, sometimes you like to have your own personal collection of books. And books I no longer want can be donated to libraries. To balance out my carbon footprint from books, I like the idea of planting trees. I'm not sure my yard can handle 150 trees, but I can at least start with one.
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