They weigh less and sometimes cost less than their paper-laden peers, but are e-textbooks really better for the environment than those good, old-fashioned hard copies? The debate is raging and will likely continue past your college graduation and even past the point when all the current models of e-readers are ready to graduate to landfills. But the topic still bears consideration because, for one thing, e-readership is on the rise.
According to some forecasts, sales of ebooks in general were up nearly 165% from 2009 to 2010, when they represented 8.3% of the trade book market, compared to 3.2% the year before. Some sources say the percentages will continue to rise exponentially in the next 15 years, up to 75% by the year 2025.
If you’re already in love with your iPad, Kindle, or Nook, you’re probably thrilled with that prospect. You say it’s because you love the lack of impact on the environment, but have you ever stopped to consider the carbon footprint of your e-reader-of-choice? The iPad utilizes 130 kg CO2, while the iPad 2 lessens its impact by 25 kg. What about the Kindle and the Nook? Their makers haven’t released that information, so we can only guess.
Now, we all know how paper can negatively impact the environment, but what about e-readers? They’re made mainly of plastic, copper, and lead—not so green—and require manufacturing that entails significant energy consumption.
Raz Godelnik is the CEO of Eco-Libris, a company whose chief aim is sustainable reading. He explains that toxic waste combined with little-known recycling options for consumer electronics make e-readers less vibrantly green than they could be. One way to increase your e-reader’s greenness is by using it! Conservative estimations put the environmental impact of an LCD e-reader on par with that of 40 paper books. If you’re using your e-reader for textbooks, consider this: Will you even need 40 textbooks, no less be able to find that many in electronic form? Probably not (yet). And if you go by other reports that estimate the e-reader equivalence at 100 paper books? Definitely not.
While e-readers might not be quite as environmentally friendly as we wish they were, there are ways to maximize the green potential that they hold. One way is to use your e-reader to replace paper books and other literature, as often as possible. Think outside the textbook and trade book world: If you usually subscribe to a magazine or pick up a newspaper once a week, go with the electronic versions, instead. Another way is to wait as long as possible to upgrade to the latest-and-greatest model, and recycle or give away your old one instead of letting it contribute to the toxic waste in landfills.
Even if your love affair with your e-reader has more to do with your technology addiction or your relief at a more lightweight backpack, you can befriend your environment by making green choices with your e-textbooks of choice.