E-Book Readers or Books: Which option is more eco-friendly?

Considering how much it must take to create one of these e-readers, it’s not such a crazy question.

Well the folks at Slate have the answer:

Think of an e-reader as the cloth diaper of books.

Sure, producing one Kindle is tougher on the environment than printing a single copy of Pride and Prejudice. But every time you download and read an electronic book, rather than purchasing a new pile of paper, you’re paying back a little bit of the carbon dioxide and water deficit. The actual operation of an e-reader represents a small percentage of its total environmental impact, so if you run your device into the ground, you’ll end up paying back that debt many times over. (Unless, of course, reading Pride and Prejudice over and over again is enough for you. Then, by all means, buy it in print and enjoy.)

Apple’s iPad generates 130 kg of carbon dioxide equivalents during its lifetime, according to company estimates.

Amazon has not released numbers for the Kindle, but independent analysts put it at 168 kg.

Those analyses do not indicate how much additional carbon is generated per book read (as a result of the energy required to host the e-bookstore’s servers and power the screen while you read), but they do include the full cost of manufacture, which likely accounts for the lion’s share of emissions. (The iPad uses just three watts of electricity while you’re reading, far less than most light bulbs.)

If we can trust those numbers, then, the iPad pays for its CO2 emissions about one third-of the way through your 18th book. You’d need to get halfway into your 23rd book on Kindle to get out of the environmental red.

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.
Researchers estimate that 79 gallons of water are needed to make an e-reader. So you come out on top, water-wise, after reading about a dozen books.

E-readers also have books beat on toxic chemicals.

[If you want to read books] there’s one thing you can do to significantly ease the environmental impact of your reading: Buy your books online.
The carbon footprint of the average book purchased in a bookstore tops 15 kg of CO2 equivalents, more than twice the overall average for books.

An even better option is to walk to your local library, which can spread the environmental impact of a single book over an entire community.

Easy-to-understand infographic [Link]

Me, I want a 9.7″ digital ebook reader with expandable SD card memory just because I don’t want to carry the weight of all my books everywhere I live and go.

🙂 It’s more of a question of weight and accessibility for me, rather than for green reasons (sorry to say!), because I think going to the library is the greenest action of all.

About the Author

I'm a 20-something year old girl who lived out of a single suitcase in 2007, and now I'm living with less, but only with the best. You don't have to get rid of everything to become a minimalist! Minimalism can help simplify and organize your life, career, & physical surroundings. You can read more about me as a minimalist. Or come and visit my other blog Fabulously Broke in the City where I got out of $60,000 of debt in 18 months, earning $65,000 gross/year.