Thursday, April 22, 2010

Are E-readers Really the Greenest Option?

First off, Happy Earth Day! My six-year-old has been looking forward to Earth Day all month and she's insisting that she use every bit of trash we create today to do an Earth Day art project (I think she got the idea from PBS). I want to do my part too, so my post today is about the environmental impact of books in their various forms.

I've been thinking about buying a Kindle or a Nook or an iPad for a while, but I've wondered if this cool new technology is really as green as it appears to be.

I did some research and unfortunately there don't seem to be any concrete answers. From what I've read, purchasing an e-reader could leave an equivalent carbon footprint to anywhere from 15 to 100 real books. That's kind of a big discrepancy.

The best break down I read was in a NY times article entitled How Green is My iPad? The authors describe e-reader and paper book footprints in 5 steps: materials, manufacture, transportation, reading, and disposal. It was fascinating. You need to read it.

My other concern is that I might buy more books than I do now if I had an e-reader, just because it's so easy to click a button and download. I usually buy one or two books a month. I try to limit my book consumption to new releases that I HAVE to read ASAP and books that I already love and want in my home library, so my family can enjoy them too. Most other books I try to get from the library. I wonder if an e-reader would make it so easy to get a book that I'd end up buying things I would never read again.

Also, if I stay on my current book buying schedule it would take me 5 or 6 years to purchase 100 books. It's likely that the technology will be so old by then that it will be time to upgrade to a new e-reader anyway.

So, I think I'm still a real book girl for the time being. I feel pretty good about real books and I think it's awesome that more and more books are being printed on recycled paper, using soy based inks (these are very landfill friendly, though I always wonder, who throws their books away?). Plus, I love the feel of a real book in my hands. I'll probably cave in and buy an e-reader someday, but not yet.

For those of you with Kindles, iPads, Nooks, etc., was environmental impact something you thought about when you purchased your e-reader? Has your e-book consumption been enough to offset the opportunity cost of buying real books? For the rest of you, is e-reader greenness a factor in whether or not you will buy one in the future?


Patti said...

I have to say that being a green has never occured to me in regards to buying an e-reader. I just always thought books take more from the environment, the whole paper thing, but after reading that article, I'm not so sure.

Roland D. Yeomans said...

Liking real paper books is a tactile thing with me. I like leather bound books for that and for the smell, and the durablility. Roland

Janna Qualman said...

Something I thought of the other day: E-readers don't recycle like paperbacks.

I'm like Patti, though; I didn't think about environmental impacts when I got my Kindle. Shame on me.

But I do love it, and successfully swap back and forth between it and "real" books.

Happy Earth Day, Natalie!

Anonymous said...

I did not think of environmental issues, but I definitely will now before purchasing an iPad or Kindle. And my problem is the same as yours: I'm restrict the buying of books to new releases I absolutely MUST have and old favorites. The favorites I will buy in hardcovers, anyway, so buying an iPad or Kindle will just be very wasteful, for now.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

I'm sticking with real books for now. And throw them away???? It is so hard for me to get rid of books, but when I do they go to the library.
We have a major problem already with disposal of electronics so I think there is a lot to consider whenever we get new items.

arlee bird said...

I like books. Can't say if I'll ever get an e-reader, but I'm alway technologically behind any way. By the time I'd be ready to get one there'd probably be new technology.
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Aubrie said...

I use my ereader whan I go on trips and that's it. So I'm not sure how to answer. It does keep me busy on an airplane!

Elle Strauss said...

Great post. I never thought about the environmental impact either. I haven't bought an e-reader yet, but I probably will simply because I spend time in non-english speaking countries and when I run out of english books to read, there's nowhere to go to buy them.

DL Hammons said...

It's a new toy...I must have it! That's part of the GUY CODE. I'm leaning towards the iPad. :)

Karen Amanda Hooper said...

I have to say I never even gave thought to whether or not my Kindle was helping the environment. Probably because I still but many real books.

Nothing beats how pretty my books look lined up in my shelves. I forget I even own them when they're stored in my Kindle.

I love my Kindle. It has its positive qualities but I still love real books more.

Happy Earth Day!

Talli Roland said...

I'm ashamed to say I've never actually thought about it. I love my eReader even more now!

Laura Marcella said...

I can't see myself ever buying an e-reader unless I suddenly started traveling a lot. I love having a real book in my hands! I think it's a good idea to consider the environment, though, whenever you buy new things. Great post!

Solvang Sherrie said...

I won my Kindle but I like reading a real book so much better. Besides, how can you have an author sign your e-book? It's just not the same :)

Jennifer Shirk said...

I must confess when I got my e-reader it wasn't because I was environmentally concerned. I was more concerned with the amount of books clogging up my house. LOL
Plus, I liked the convenience of carrying more than one book in a compact little carrying device if I was away somewhere.
I would say I probably buy the same amount of books. Only because I don't have more time to read. But I do buy books in "bulk" than here and there because of the ease. :)

Shannon said...

I haven't given in to the Kindle or iPad yet. I'm still a fan of holding my books and writing in margins.

storyqueen said...

One more vote for real books.

I'm not that excited about e-readers.

Thought provoking post!


Erica Chapman said...

Great post! I'm with you for now on the real books, but I'm not opposed to getting a kindle or iPad, just not quite yet...

Thanks for sharing ;o)