If you’re an avid reader that cares about the environment, you might be wondering if eReaders are better than books in terms of emissions. And the answer is a lot more complicated than most would initially think.
That said, I will tell you right now that eReaders are the better option over books, but let’s find out why.
The Carbon Breakdown
Now I know what you’re thinking; that’s a huge difference. Clearly, a book is a better option, but read that again. Did you catch it?
The comparison is between the kindle’s lifetime carbon and a single book. So the real question becomes how many books does it take to make a Kindle the better option.
The answer to that question is 22.5 books, but since you can’t buy half a book, let’s round that up to 23.
For avid readers, they may easily surpass that number within a year. And others may never actually reach it. Thus, you could say that it just depends on how much you read. But there are other factors to consider.
Note: The study exclusively looked at the Amazon Kindle DX. There are many types of eReaders available, so the results will vary across devices. It’s also worth pointing out the Amazon Kindle DX is from 2010. Newer models are more efficient.
That said, don’t expect huge differences across the hardware.
It’s also worth saying that not all books are equal. Consider a college textbook versus a normal novel. The textbook will have a bigger carbon footprint.
Other Factors to Consider
Trying to compare which is better for the environment while only looking at carbon emissions is the wrong way to go about it.
For instance, let’s look at the actual waste each one produces. The only waste a kindle will leave behind is the device itself and the packaging. While this can be significant when millions of these devices are sold, it’s nothing compared to books.
Each year, approximately 640,000 tons of books find their way into landfills. While many can find a second life and be reused countless times, the truth is that many are not.
We should also examine what each one is made from. A lot of components go into an eReader, but the main one to look at is the battery. Or more specifically, the lithium in the battery. The demand for lithium is spiking due to electric cars, and we might even exhaust all of the Earth’s lithium reserves.
Books are made out of paper, which means trees. Trees are natural carbon sinks, thus removing a tree to construct a book is typically seen as a negative. That said, it’s not true.
Properly maintained trees that are replanted and harvested are a good thing. Unfortunately, not every tree farm operates this way.
However, the biggest problem with books or paper, in general, is the amount of water they consume. Book publishing uses 153 billion gallons of water each year. Meanwhile, eReaders do not.
You also need to consider the transportation aspect of it.
Shipping millions of books to stores around the world is going to rapidly increase the carbon footprint versus shipping a single device that has access to those millions of books. Not to mention traveling to the store to buy the volume.
That said, you could argue that data centers that contain digital books also add more carbon. While this is true, most facilities use or have the option to use renewable energy to eliminate this as a factor.
eReaders Are A Better Option Than Books
When you take into consideration the carbon breakdown and other factors, eReaders are far more environmentally friendly than books.
And many would argue they are more convenient. Having to order a new book online or travel to a store takes time. Buying a book on your eReader is instant. You can also adjust the font size to make it easier on your eyes.
While I am a fan of collecting my favorite books, there’s no denying eReaders are the environmentally friendly option.
Robert has been following and writing about environmental stories for years at GreenGeeks. He believes that highlighting environmentally friendly practices can help promote change in every household.