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E-Reading for the E-nvironment

2011 September 28

By John Martin

A recent, unscientific survey (by yours truly) estimated that between 20-50 percent of subway riders have their noses stuck in some book, newspaper or electronic reading device at any one time. Until roughly a year ago, paper reading was the clear favorite among the straphanger crowd, but more recently, Kindles, Nooks, iPads and even smart phones have established themselves as the go-to options of choice.

Aside from their convenient size and ability to keep thousands of titles at your fingertips, these devices can also offer a good alternative for those interested in being environmentally friendly. The average printed book has a carbon footprint of almost nine pounds of CO2. Assuming you read at least 23 books a year, the CO2 from the manufacture and use of your Kindle or Nook gets completely offset. The more books you happen to read, the more you’ll be fighting global warming once you switch over to e-books.

If shelling out over $100 for an e-reader isn’t your thing, or you don’t feel right about reading books from a screen, don’t fret. You could always borrow books from the library or from friends, which is still the greenest option of them all — in terms of both money and carbon saved.

If you are an e-reader user, it is not too early to start thinking about what to do once it’s time to upgrade to the latest version of your device. Gifting or donating it to an appreciative school or charity is a great way to encourage reading while conserving resources. If that’s not an option, make sure to have your device properly recycled. Amazon runs a recycling program in which they pay you to ship your used Kindle or Nook to a certified recycler. For other devices, a good place to get more info is EPA’s eCycling page.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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9 Responses leave one →
  1. Anthony permalink
    September 28, 2011

    Some good points here. I like the recycling tip. My old gadgets usually just sit in my closet.

    Do you have stats on the carbon footprint of your standard e-reader that include manufacture and use of electricity throughout the reader’s lifespan? I’d be interested in seeing those and seeing how they compare. Which e-reader is the most environmentally friendly?


  2. September 28, 2011

    Thanks for the comment!

    Most of the carbon footprint one of these devices results from their manufacture. Unfortunately, neither Amazon nor Barnes & Noble provide statistics on their devices environmental impact. Apple, however, does.

    Here is Apple’s environmental impact report for its original iPad:

    They even give you a handy pie chart breakdown which shows how much of its greenhouse gas emissions are the result of the device’s production, transport and use. According to Apple’s numbers, the typical iPad will be responsible for 130 kg of CO2 eqivalents (287 pounds) throughout its lifetime. According to the nonprofit Green Press Initiative, the average printed book is responsible for 8.85 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions. If you’re the type of reader who’d go through 35-40 books in the time someone would hold on to his/her iPad (I’m guessing 2 years?), it looks like you’d come out ahead.

    Although the other major manufacturers don’t reveal their device’s environmental data, my guess is that a device like the regular-sized, black and white Kindle (not the fancy Kindle Fire that was revealed just today) is likely to consume far less energy than the iPad. As an owner of both devices, I can tell you anecdotally that I need to charge my Kindle once every couple of weeks, while I have to charge my iPad once every two to three days. Because the Kindle weighs less, I would speculate that it requires fewer resources to manufacture than the iPad, but again, that is only speculation.

  3. Jhonny permalink
    September 30, 2011

    I love the Green part as well. not to mention that I can read papers from back home at the same moment they are printed out


  4. Mcyber permalink
    September 30, 2011

    I agree with you john …. indeed in this era we must follow the technology, but on the other hand many people paying less attention to the environment. its negative effects as you say john, global warming is everywhere! but there was also its positive impact, especially for users of the Kindle, nook or the other. we do not need to cut more trees for paper .. he .. he.
    Thank you for posting and familiar greetings from Indonesia.

  5. Jim Jay permalink
    October 3, 2011

    Great article. The e-reader is here to stay and will definitely help save a lot of trees.

    • October 4, 2011

      I think you’re right. I addition to the environmental benefits, I think e-readers should also help to spread literacy to under served communities here in the U.S. and abroad. No matter where you are in the world, if you have a wireless connection, if you have an e-reader with you, you can access millions of titles– including low-cost and free public domain works.

      Hope I’m not tooting the e-reader’s horn too loudly here!

  6. Beatrice | Kindle Fire Reviews permalink
    October 4, 2011

    I agree 100% with your article and some of the other comments. With the release of the new Kindle Fire in November, we will probably see an even greater number of these on the subway. I was using a free Kindle app on my iPhone until I found myself squinting and needing something larger! I love the approach to green technology! It’s about time.

  7. Kevin Johnson permalink
    October 22, 2011

    John, thanks for bringing up the Amazon Recycle program. It’s so true that people should recycle their ebook readers rather than just throw them away when they are not working.

    I haven’t thought about borrowing books from the library is also GREEN. I prefer reading paper books and now trying to read more on my Kindle.

  8. Giovanni permalink
    December 10, 2011

    Hi John,

    You say that borrowing books from the library or from friends is the greenest option but I believe that book lending to friends is available for some ebook readers as well. But you need 2 readers for 1 ebook and that is less green. I am getting it now:)
    I am glad that Amazon did not try to duplicate the Apple Ipad. I think they will attract a different market and people with the Kindle Fire

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