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Old 06-09-2008, 07:14 PM   #1
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Paper vs. paperless: Which makes reading greener?

Just ran across this blog entry in the Los Angles Times regarding the eco-friendliness of ebooks vs. the carbon footprint involved in producing paper books. It has a nice comment from Fictionwise at the end.

Paper vs. paperless: Which makes reading greener?

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Are e-books like the Kindle (left) and Sony Reader (right) more eco-friendly than paper books? The short answer is that we don't know -- yet. We have a pretty good idea of the carbon footprint of paper books, thanks to a newish study, Environmental Trends and Climate Impacts: Findings from the U.S. Book Industry, released earlier this year by the Book Industry Study Group and the Green Press Initiative. That report concludes each paper U.S. book releases 8.85 pounds of carbon dioxide.

Unfortunately, the study doesn't cover e-books. "In order to address e-books effectively, I’d need to look at a lifecycle comparison that analyzes the impacts of e-readers vs. paper as a medium," said Tyson Miller, founder and director of the Green Press Initiative, in an interview published on Sustainablog. "I do hope that we can explore much more in-depth in future iterations."
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Old 06-09-2008, 07:52 PM   #2
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Originally Posted by daffy4u View Post
Just ran across this blog entry in the Los Angles Times regarding the eco-friendliness of ebooks vs. the carbon footprint involved in producing paper books. It has a nice comment from Fictionwise at the end.

Paper vs. paperless: Which makes reading greener?

Studies like this must always be viewed from the lens of "if the information is newer than 10-years-old, it must be ignored". That way the study or review doesn't have to try to understand emerging trends and technologies - those things *frighten* people, don't you know?
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Old 10-08-2009, 11:57 AM   #3
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Kind of apples and oranges

It's pretty clear that if you read enough, that an e-reader has to win.

Or maybe not ... ?

Let me be more careful. If the amount of CO2 produced by generating the electricity used in the distribution and consumption (powering the reader) of an e-book is smaller than the the amount of CO2 released in cutting down trees, making paper, manufacturing the p-book, and shipping the p-book then, for a sufficiently large number of books, e-books are more environmentally friendly.

Eventually the fixed environmental costs of manufacturing the reader become irrelevant.

Ergo, read more!

Counter argument: What if you read only second hand-books? A book can last a long time, perhaps longer than a reader ...
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Old 10-08-2009, 01:45 PM   #4
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It's pretty clear that if you read enough, that an e-reader has to win.

Or maybe not ... ?

Let me be more careful. If the amount of CO2 produced by generating the electricity used in the distribution and consumption (powering the reader) of an e-book is smaller than the the amount of CO2 released in cutting down trees, making paper, manufacturing the p-book, and shipping the p-book then, for a sufficiently large number of books, e-books are more environmentally friendly.

Eventually the fixed environmental costs of manufacturing the reader become irrelevant.

Ergo, read more!

Counter argument: What if you read only second hand-books? A book can last a long time, perhaps longer than a reader ...
Recently I read an article by a leading proponent of the "we must cut all technology to save our planet" school on his views of CO2. He stated that it probably is already too late to make effective changes in our CO2 production (worldwide) in order to see massive reductions within the next couple of decades - that because the CO2 currently in our atmosphere will STILL be there as it takes many YEARS to filter out. However, he stated that further reducing NOX, CO and other greenhouse gases will have a dramatic effect as the currently in-atmosphere amounts of those tend to filter out within weeks.

So the question now becomes, are we so wedded to the philosophy of AlGore-ism that we'd rather slaughter millions of trees each year for book and newsprint production or would we rather eliminate 90% of dead-tree production and face a possible maintenance or slight increase in CO2 production from power systems that recharge our ereader batteries. Our choice.

Me, I'd rather save the trees as they DO filter out excess CO2. Call me crazy.

Derek
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Old 10-08-2009, 02:17 PM   #5
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Isn't the greatest problem that fossile fuels release "saved-up" CO2 in great quantity over a very short time? I.e. wood=paper is not the issue, but the energy spent to produce and distribute a paper book versus and ebook reader + e-books?

I would assume it's still too early-days to give a good and substantial answer to the (fossile fuel) energy spent on e-books - hardware and software included - issue.

The whole life-cycle of a product is complex. Environmentally speaking, cotton is a really big baddie - but try to tell people that polyester might be a better choice in some instances.... It's the good old logic vs. feeling.
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Old 10-08-2009, 02:21 PM   #6
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Neither are going to be perfect. I have little problem with paper as long as people are not being wasteful in using it and a recycling everything they can. I still use paper books for my academic work and print out PDFs as I have to be able to highlight and write notes in the margins etc. so I never have to read them twice. But I keep them permanently, or give them away or recycle them (printouts).

Ebooks inherently are better on that front since they don't use paper. But there's still plastic to make them (thus dependence on petroleum), and problems with waste when idiots through them away when they break rather than recycling the device and it's battery properly.
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Old 10-08-2009, 02:23 PM   #7
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In their current iterration, I think ebooks will lose. Although a paper book consumes more resources initially, paper books are traded, sold, etc. I learned it was a sin to throw away a pbook, like it was a sin not to eat your vegetables (starving children . . ). Although an ebook is more convenient and initially costs me less, including driving to the bookstore, the fact that it is one use only will make it less efficient. JMHO

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Old 10-08-2009, 02:44 PM   #8
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In their current iterration, I think ebooks will lose. Although a paper book consumes more resources initially, paper books are traded, sold, etc. I learned it was a sin to throw away a pbook, like it was a sin not to eat your vegetables (starving children . . ). Although an ebook is more convenient and initially costs me less, including driving to the bookstore, the fact that it is one use only will make it less efficient. JMHO

Debra
You have a STRANGE view of ebooks. *I* have found that I get many, many, MANY uses of each ebook I've purchased. Just which ebook reading system do you use that you are not allowed to use the ebook more than once?

Derek

P.S. I often share my ebooks with my mother by the simple expedient of putting it on my second Cybook Gen3 - both of which are registered with Mobipocket, Fictionwise and BooksOnBoard.
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Old 10-08-2009, 02:45 PM   #9
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Ebooks inherently are better on that front since they don't use paper. But there's still plastic to make them (thus dependence on petroleum), and problems with waste when idiots through them away when they break rather than recycling the device and it's battery properly.
Waste is definitely a problem. I would say the plastic issue is miniscule in comparision to the energy required for production - in total, up to and including shipping.

Then there's the waste of the metals used for the electronics. AFAIK, this kind of waste is not properly harnessed by anyone yet. Even if you "recycle" rather than throw in the dump. "Recycling" doesn't always mean that the waste is properly taken care of. For a more total view on environmental impact, there's also the water spent on production.
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Old 10-08-2009, 02:49 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by Sydney's Mom View Post
In their current iterration, I think ebooks will lose. Although a paper book consumes more resources initially, paper books are traded, sold, etc. I learned it was a sin to throw away a pbook, like it was a sin not to eat your vegetables (starving children . . ). Although an ebook is more convenient and initially costs me less, including driving to the bookstore, the fact that it is one use only will make it less efficient. JMHO

Debra
"Consumes more resources initially"??? Y'know, a tree that has been toppled in it's prime isn't just a "lost resource" as far as future pulp-production - it also is an ONGOING loss of the CO2 cleansing, erosion-prevention, habitat-destruction and vista-reduction. So electricity production adds a bit to the overall CO2 levels. Think of all that is preserved when we DON'T slaughter trees by the millions! I'm sorry, but the idjits who advocate to the masses that ereaders/ebooks are worse for the environment simply don't know what they're talking about.

Derek
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Old 10-08-2009, 03:18 PM   #11
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The vast majority of trees which are cut for paper pulp are quick-growing loblolly pines which will be re-planted almost immediately, larger, older, nicer trees are usually cut for lumber, so one should be able to let the 8.85 pounds figure stand for paper products w/o concern for deforestation.

Here's a page which indicates most CO_2 production is for energy:
http://www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/1605/ggrpt/carbon.html

And here's a page which indicates that CO_2 production is a much larger problem for the manufacturing of electronics:
http://www.energybulletin.net/node/49730
w/ a ratio of 12 to 1 for energy usage to weight, so my PRS-505 weighs roughly 9 ozs., so presumably required 108 ounces of fuel to manufacture (on-going energy usage is not considered)
http://www.epa.gov/oms/climate/420f05001.htm
gives us a figure of 19.4 pounds of CO_2 per gallon of gasoline which equals roughly 16.36875 pounds of CO_2 to make the ebook reader.

So getting two books for the Sony should make it roughly break even, and each printed book beyond that which is not purchased should result in a net reduction of CO_2 emissions, since the energybulletin.net page indicates that the embodied energy usage for electronics is much greater than the lifetime usage.

William

Last edited by WillAdams; 10-08-2009 at 03:21 PM. Reason: attempt to clarify
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Old 10-08-2009, 07:15 PM   #12
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CO2 is one thing, but a lot of electronic devices use a lot of oil to produce the plastic they are encased in, then have additional sometimes toxic chemicals. I can't quite recall the name of the metal, I think it is chromite, that most electronic devices contain and there is a kind of 'blood diamond' style trade in it as children slaves work to produce it in African countries. It's in every iPhone, every PSP, every Kindle.

So producing the materials that go into an electronic device can be costly, then recycling the device is also problematic - how long does it take for a kindle plastic case to biodegrade? 1000+ years? Will it leech toxins into the soil as it does so?

Carbon is especially a problem for us in the short term if you subscribe to global warmin theory, but some of the other chemicals and plastics will also be a problem and many years to come.
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Old 10-09-2009, 12:30 AM   #13
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CO2 is one thing, but a lot of electronic devices use a lot of oil to produce the plastic they are encased in, then have additional sometimes toxic chemicals. I can't quite recall the name of the metal, I think it is chromite, that most electronic devices contain and there is a kind of 'blood diamond' style trade in it as children slaves work to produce it in African countries. It's in every iPhone, every PSP, every Kindle.

So producing the materials that go into an electronic device can be costly, then recycling the device is also problematic - how long does it take for a kindle plastic case to biodegrade? 1000+ years? Will it leech toxins into the soil as it does so?

Carbon is especially a problem for us in the short term if you subscribe to global warmin theory, but some of the other chemicals and plastics will also be a problem and many years to come.
Should go for best of both worlds and make the casing out of wood or compressed paper pulp.
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Old 10-09-2009, 05:47 AM   #14
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So producing the materials that go into an electronic device can be costly, then recycling the device is also problematic - how long does it take for a kindle plastic case to biodegrade? 1000+ years? Will it leech toxins into the soil as it does so?

Carbon is especially a problem for us in the short term if you subscribe to global warmin theory, but some of the other chemicals and plastics will also be a problem and many years to come.
And we can add the energy "cost" of recycling to that, because if we don't get better at recycling, we'll have a waste problem.
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Old 10-09-2009, 09:08 AM   #15
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Recycling of electronics should be mandatory. If it isn't in your locality, get involved and get funding for it, and arrange for it to happen. It's just a matter of being personally responsible. If all else fails, Best Buy (and presumably other retailers) will take electronics in for recycling for a small fee (offset by a matching gift card in the case of Best Buy).

My locality does an electronics recycling once a year, so I just save everything until then. Where my sister lives in California, they'll accept any electronic device in the recycling bin and recycle it, but she pays a bit more for her waste management bill than I do.

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