Is Paperless the Answer?

Is Paperless the Answer?

by Ilana Nevins, Eco Coalition Editor

To read or not to read? While that may have been the question for some, it has increasingly become a question of how to read- namely, paper books or e-readers?However, the proposal that these replacements may be “environmentally friendly” may place us in an unsettling situation. Is it possible to read a paperback book AND strive to decrease one’s carbon footprint- or do these ideas not coexist anymore?

An increasing amount of studies are being done to determine the truth behind this paper vs. paperless dilemma. The Book Industry Study Group determined that paper books release 8.85 pounds of carbon dioxide each, but does not analyze the carbon emissions of eBooks. Another study, by the Cleantech Group, determines that e-books equal 22.5 paper books. Cleantech also determines that the U.S. book and newspaper industries harvested over 125 million trees in 2008, however; these statistics decline to account for the trees that have been planted to replace those cut down.

The Print Grows Trees campaign emphasizes that the continual use of print and paper is needed to create an ongoing replanting of trees rather than a “cut and run” scenario if paper is to become outdated. Currently, third-party certification labels are displayed on a variety of paper products to show that the entire supply chain is carefully, sustainable managed. The paper industry also receives the majority of its power and electricity needs from renewable biomass from renewable, responsible forests.

In contrast, over 90% of the energy used in electronic posts and transfers used fossil fuels, including mountain top removal coal mining; as long as print is recycled it can have a much less damaging affect on our mountaintops, and our future.  Mountaintop-removal coal mining contributes to deforestation, biodiversity loss and water pollution throughout the U.S.  and over 600 square miles of forest have already been destroyed because of Americans’ increasing energy demands. (You can figure out your personal connection to mountaintop-removal coal mining at www.ilovemountains.org/myconnection)

A lifecycle analysis of both books and e-readers accounts for the materials, manufacturing, transportation, reading and disposal of these two products and can be viewed at www.nytimes.com/interactive.

Ultimately, however, it seems that this paper vs. paperless dilemma must be taken into a much more personalized arena. For those who buy books printed on virgin paper, buying a kindle may be the “greenest” choice. However, it seems that for the general public a cautious, responsible choice can be to support their public libraries, and rather than go paperless- go green through reusing and recycling. It comes down to being well informed about where our products come from and remembering to not always judge the book by its cover.

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Did you know…

Breathing air in highly populated and polluted metropolitan cities can reduce your life expectancy by 2 to 3 years?

70% of toxic waste in U.S. landfills consists of e-waste, items such as hard drives, monitors, servers, etc?

Data centers around the world consume more energy in one year than the entire country of Sweden?

At least 36 states in the U.S. are expected to face water shortages within the next 5 years?

Over 200 million items of e-waste are thrown away every year in the U.S.?