Production of paper books, magazines, and newspapers is responsible for a large part of the world's carbon dioxide emissions. Since 2009, the industry has slowly been transitioning to what's considered a more eco-friendly option - electronic readers. According to the Author Earnings 2017 report, e-books account for 55% of all online book purchases in the US.
Many people wonder, though, whether electronic readers are really more ecological than traditional books. You need to consider the fact that the production of such devices requires immense amounts of energy and uses up scarce resources. That's why we, the team at Omni Calculator, decided to investigate a bit deeper and answer the following question:
How much of my CO₂ emission can I prevent by switching to an e-reader?
E-reader ecological footprint
The production of an e-reader, for example of a Kindle, comes at a certain price. According to the Cleantech report, all such devices cause costs associated with mining, energy use, transport, and disposal of e-waste.
The carbon footprint of three most popular devices is estimated at
- 168 kg CO₂ for an e-reader (Kindle or similar),
- 130 kg CO₂ for a tablet (iPad or similar),
- 55 kg CO₂ for a smartphone (iPhone or similar).
These numbers don't take into consideration other environmental consequences, such as the exploitation of the world's fossil resources. Two good examples are lithium, necessary for the production of the battery, or columbite-tantalite, the mining of which helped to fund military conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Naturally, the electronic readers don't only cause CO₂ emissions in the production phase - after all, you need to charge their batteries regularly. Nevertheless, the emissions associated with charging don't exceed 2% of the energy used during production, which makes them statistically insignificant.
Production of paper books
While these 168 kgs of CO₂ appear to be quite a substantial figure, the carbon footprint is not that high in comparison with the traditional paper industry. The authors of the aforementioned Cleantech report estimate the carbon footprint at
- 7.46 kg CO₂ for a book,
- 0.95 kg CO₂ for a magazine,
- 0.62 kg CO₂ for a newspaper.
These values are average across the industry - for example, the production of a bulky textbook might release even 10.20 kg of carbon dioxide into the air. Still, it's a reasonable estimate for our calculations.
How ecological are you?
In order to calculate how much of your CO₂ emission can you prevent, we need two pieces of information: what electronic device you use, and your reading habits.
E-reader type. As described in the previous section, the kind of an e-reader you use has a massive influence on the carbon footprint. Additionally, we need to know how soon will you replace it. The average lifetime of a Kindle reader is four years, but for an iPhone, it will be considerably lower.
Your reading habits. Depending on how many books, magazines, or even newspapers you read per year, we can estimate how much CO₂ will not be produced on your account. (A small tip: if you would like to read more, maybe it's high time to ditch social media?)
Once you provide this information to our books vs. ebooks calculator, it will automatically determine the CO₂ emission reduction.
Additionally, it recalculates this value to something more tangible - a planted trees equivalent. Assuming one tree can absorb 48 pounds of CO₂ annually, this is the number of trees you would need to plant to compensate for your reading habits.
Other ways to reduce your carbon footprint
If you're a die-hard fan of traditional books, you can still reduce your carbon footprints in other ways. Some of them are:
Borrow books from a library. Instead of buying new books and encouraging the production of paper, you can read books available at your local library. Not only will you help save the environment, but also support a local business!
Join a book club. A book club is a great place to exchange books with other people and share the ones you love the most. By borrowing books from your colleagues, you will lower your carbon footprint.
Sell or donate unloved books. There's a special place in hell reserved for people who throw books into the trash. If you don't like a book anymore, don't throw it away. Instead, sell it or donate it to a local library.
Recycle books. If a book you own is in an absolutely unreadable condition, or it's so boring that no one wants to accept it as a donation, make sure to recycle it in order to minimize the ecological footprint.