Last year I asked for a Kindle for my birthday, using the justification that it’d be better for the environment. However, considering how few books I buy in the first place, and now this article from The New York Times, my rationalization couldn’t be more incorrect. According to this short opinion piece by Daniel Goleman and Gregory Norris, e-readers and iPads are dooming our planet. In this breakdown, the authors compare the environmental pros and cons of e-readers to paper books and offer some pretty compelling stats in favor of traditional books, or even better, the library.
Check it out:
- Each e-reader requires the extraction of 33 pounds of minerals through potentially destructive mining processes, while paper books use less than one pound of minerals
- Each e-reader uses 79 gallons of water to produce its batteries and wiring boards, while paper books use only 2 gallons to create the paper pulp
- Production of one e-reader uses 100 kilowatt hours of fossil fuels and emits 66 pounds of carbon dioxide. Paper books use only 2 kilowatt hours and emit 100 times fewer greenhouse gases
- Adverse health effects from producing one e-reader are estimated to be 70 times greater than those from producing a single book
While this article gravitates toward ambiguity when describing certain factors, the concrete facts provided above are enough to make me reconsider my birthday present. I can’t deny how convenient my Kindle is– it takes up very little room in my purse and bookshelf, it allows me to download a book whenever and wherever I am, and it actually makes me want to read. But are the implications worth it?
More Americans are expected to purchase e-readers in the coming years. Are we digging ourselves into a black hole of unsustainability while under the impression that we’re doing the exact opposite (like I was)? The good news is that progress towards sustainability is constantly being made, and safer habits must have been adopted since this article was posted two years ago. But, Goleman and Norris estimate e-reader users have to read 40 to 50 electronic books on their gadget to come out even on their environmental damages. I’m making good progress on that number, but I think I’ll still advocate for the good ol’ library over these high-tech gadgets.