Objects of Concern Paper
E-readers are a somewhat new product that have given books a run for their money as we dive into a technology filled world, but in this age how are they affecting our environment? Is there a benefit to having an e-reader versus a physical book? Is there even a benefit between the two or is this a double edged sword?E-Readers are electronic devices that allow you to download an array of printed media such as newspapers, magazines books and sometimes even textbooks. People have called them the books of the future but the question is are they much better for the environment than old fashioned books?
When we compare the two in how they are created we see that e-readers require more natural resources to be made. Some of these resources are toxic such as hexane, toluene and xylene and are mostly toxic when they are released into the atmosphere and can contribute to issues such as asthma and smog and even in some serious cases can cause birth defects or cancer (Palmer). When it comes to water they require about 79 gallons of water to produce one single e-reader as opposed to the paper industry as a whole, they use about 153 gallons of water per year for various products like books, newspapers and magazines. So realistically it depends on how many e-readers are being produced versus how many paper products are being produced per year which was not possible to due so many different products and styles of products. One concerning finding is that “the energy, water and raw materials needed to make a single e-reader is equal to that of 40 to 50 books. In terms of the effect on the climate, the emissions created by a single e-reader are equal to roughly 100 books.”(Omega Institute). And the amount of emissions created by one e-reader are equal to about 100 books (Omega Institute).
There is also the concern of how often one who owns an e-reader decides to upgrade their device and how often they had used their device before upgrading. “If you read 100 books on your e-reader before upgrading it, the effect on the climate is no different than reading those books in print. If you upgrade before that time, your carbon footprint actually increases compared to reading printed books. If you read 200 books on the device, the climate impact is halved. The result is the same for resource and energy usage, though the threshold to break-even is lower.”(Omega Institute) But on the other hand, books are no saints to our environment either with their huge amount of water the industry consumes per year as previously stated and that books alone produced in the U.S in 2006 used about 30 million trees and had a carbon footprint equivalent to 12.4m metric tons of carbon dioxide (Siegle).
There is also the issue of when you go an e-reader, is this product actually being recycled and is it properly being recycled? If they are not properly disposed of they have the potential to release some of the toxic chemicals they contain into the atmosphere or they could be shipped to developing countries who break the product apart and recycle the materials to be used in other products which is incredibly dangerous for not only the people who are doing the recycling but to the environment in which they are working as well. And in terms of environmental ethics, this is not ethical at all. The definition of ethics/ethical according to our textbook ‘Environment and Society’, “the branch of philosophy dealing with morality, or, questions of right and wrong human action in the world.” ( Robbins 67). In short, no, it is not ethical to put other human beings through environmental hazards to “recycle” a few things from a product just to make a few dollars when they are risking exposing themselves to the hazardous chemicals like hexane as stated earlier that is found in e-readers and could potentially increase their risk or cause them to get cancer.
Another issue that needs to be viewed is the environmental risks and hazards that are posed with this product when it comes to being recycled, produced and consumed. During the production on an e-reader about 100 kilowatt hours of fossil fuels are being used which equates to 66 lbs of CO2 (Siegle). We already add enough carbon into the atmosphere due to driving and using energy just to simply light our homes and charge our cell phones and the various other electronics that we may or may not have in our homes, is it really necessary to have a device when you can easily use your cell phone or computer (if you have either) to read books via an electronic device? Books are also failing a bit at this as well, although there are a good amount of paper products out there that are recycled, a good amount of that ends up in landfills actually, according to “Books vs ebooks: Protect the environment with this simple decision” our landfills are composed of about 26% paper. That may seem like a relatively small statistic but that can really add up in long run, especially when so many trees are being cut down every year just for 26% of the products that use trees as their main natural resource to end up in a landfill.
Various studies have shown that having an e-reader can be a better alternative than buying actual books but it comes down to a few factors, some of which are how often you are downloading books onto your device, how often you use the device and how often do you charge the device after using it and how often you are upgrading the device to a newer version. As previously stated, the paper industry uses a lot more water to produce its products in the long run than e-readers do but they happen to require less carbon emissions during production, which depends on its size, for example, a textbook weighing 2.18kg results in 10.2kg of CO2 being released.(Siegle) And also stated previously, the amount of trees needed to produce paper products is devastating to whatever areas are being forested. Not only from the amount of fossil fuels it would take to transport the lumber to the facility to be turned into paper but also the fuel to power the plant that this is taking place at and then you have to factor in the fuel to deliver the books themselves to lets say bookstores. According to a web article “Should You Ditch Your Books For An E-Reader?” Stated: “Between one-quarter and one-third of a bookstore's volumes will ultimately be shipped back to the publisher and on to recycling centers or landfills. The carbon footprint of the average book purchased in a bookstore tops 15 kg of CO2 equivalents, more than twice the overall average for books.” That is another carbon factor that we have to factor into the confusing equation and I’m sure the same could be said about e-readers as well. “Providing one Kindle is tougher than on the environment than printing a single copy of Pride and Prejudice (Palmer). But according to Amazon’s website, they do offer that exact book for free to download onto a kindle so that’s a small win in my opinion.
A pro to e-readers is the fact that they are a lot easier to carry around than a book depending on its size and you also have the ability to change the brightness on an e-reader, for a book you don’t. SO when you are trying to read a book at night you have the option of reading it with the lights out, you unfortunately can’t read a book in the dark so you’re having to use a light bulb which also requires energy to use so that’s also adding to fuel and carbon emissions, even though it is something as small as a light bulb. A con to e-readers is the fact they require energy to be used to charge them which also goes back to carbon emissions.
It’s hard to tell whether or not using either one of the products is even helpful when it comes to the environment and it seems that there is no definitive answer and these answers will continue as time goes on and technology changes. What it boils down to is how often you are using an e-reader, how often are you charging it? How many book are you reading on it? How often are you replacing it? Are you buying it new or second-hand?
Some food for thought that I stumbled across in the web article “Should You Ditch Your Books for an E-Reader?” At the very end of the article the author brought up a great suggestion, than instead of purchasing an ereader because let’s be honest, there’s a lot of books that would need to be read in order for them to be better than hard copies of books, that walking to your local library and checking a book out or simply reading there is so much better. A very sad statistic/study was stated from the same article that said: “Studies suggest that fewer than one-third of Americans visit their local library at least once a month, and fewer than one-half went in the last year. Libraries report that the average community member checks out 7.4 books per year—far less than the three per month consumed on e-readers—and more than one-third of those items were children's books.”
Maybe before we decide to divulge ourselves into the latest and greatest thing that has been released whether it be an ereader or a newly published book maybe we can opt to walk or ride our bikes to our local library instead of the alternative. Also, if you absolutely feel the need to buy an ereader try to buy them second hand or refurbished, not only are they cheaper but in a way they are better for the environment. I recently bought my boyfriend a Kindle White for his birthday, even after writing this paper but I opted to get him a refurbished one because it was half the price of a new one and at least I know it isn’t somewhere across the world being recycled by people who are putting their lives in danger. Or another cool thing that my own town does is, people have made their own kart that is filled with books and anyone is free to borrow them but they have to place a book in the cart to replace the book that they have borrowed, that way people aren’t going out and buying a new book and the wealth is being shared throughout the whole community.
Institute, O. (2017). [online] Available at: http://Institute, Omega. “Print or Digital: It All Has Environmental Impact.” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 27 Feb. 2014, www.huffingtonpost.com/omega-institute-for-holistic-studies/print-or-digital_b_4860403.html. [Accessed 10 Dec. 2017].
Palmer, B. (2010). Are iPads and Kindles better for the environment than books?. [online] Slate Magazine. Available at: http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/the_green_lantern/2010/08/should_you_ditch_your_books_for_an_ereader.html [Accessed 12 Dec. 2017].
Siegle, L. (2013). Should I stop buying paper books and use an e-reader instead?. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/jan/06/should-i-buy-an-e-reader [Accessed 12 Dec. 2017].
Carpenter, M. (2016). Books vs ebooks: Protect the environment with this simple decision. [online] The Eco Guide. Available at: https://theecoguide.org/books-vs-ebooks-protect-environment-simple-decision [Accessed 12 Dec. 2017].
Robbins, P., Hintz, J. and Moore, S. (2014). Environment and Society: A Critical Introduction. 2nd ed. West Sussex: Blackwell, p.67.