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How green is your ebook?

Posted by Delia Cabe  May 10, 2012 11:18 AM

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All those downloaded copies of "50 Shades of Grey" may mean fewer trees are felled in the name of "mommy porn," but that doesn't translate into a smaller carbon footprint. The equation is not that simple, according to Nick Moran, writing for The Millions.

Moran notes:


In the case of eBooks, though, vast amounts of materials are also necessary for the eReaders themselves, and this is something typically overlooked by proponents of digitization: the material costs are either ignored, or, more misleadingly, they’re classified as the byproduct of the tech industry instead of the book industry.

Moran quotes this statistic from a New York Times op-ed: “the impact of one e-reader … equals roughly 40 to 50 books. When it comes to global warming, though, it’s 100 books.”

Moran does some math:


  • "One year of reading eBooks accounts for a carbon footprint five times greater than a year’s worth of print books."

  • In five years of reading, "[t]hat eReader, then, accounts for an initial carbon footprint 200-250% greater than your typical household library, and it increases every time you get a new eReader for Christmas, or every time the latest Apple Keynote lights a fire in your wallet."

  • "Still more problematic is the fact that outdated devices are too often discarded inappropriately. You don’t need to investigate very hard to find evidence of the toll this mineral mining and e-waste dumping takes on fragile ecosystems."

Here's the bottom line:

Consumer outcry works: a few months ago, because everyone flipped out about the mistreatment of Foxconn workers, Apple instituted major changes to the pay structure for their subcontractors. If we can do this with labor, we can do this with resources.

We must also resist the urge to purchase the next hot technology when it comes out. If you have an eReader, use your eReader until it no longer works, and then recycle it responsibly. Do not purchase a new one before the old one has stopped working. If you own an eReader that you do not use, sell it to someone who will actually use it so that they don’t have to buy a fresh one. In simple terms: you wouldn’t buy a new edition of a book if nothing was wrong with the edition you already owned, so why would you do it with something ecologically equal to fifty of those books put together?

You can read Moran's number-crunching analysis here.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Delia Cabe's work has appeared in The Boston Globe Magazine, Boston Magazine, Self, Prevention, Scientific American Presents, and other publications. In between posts, you can read Cabe's tweets at http://twitter.com/#!/DeliaCabe, More »

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