Are Digital Books Better for the Environment than Print Books?

by Lindsey Winsemius - Posted 1 month ago

In today's world, we often read books in two ways: on screens or on paper. But have you ever wondered which is better for our planet? Let's find out by looking at both digital and paper books.

Paper Books Require Physical Resources:

Resource Consumption:

Digital books use fewer physical resources. Indeed, the production of paper books requires significant amounts of paper, ink, and energy. According to the American Association of Publishers, the United States alone produced over 2.7 billion books in 2019, contributing to deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions.

On the other hand, digital books eliminate the need for paper entirely, theoretically reducing the demand for timber and decreasing carbon emissions associated with paper production. However, the environmental impact of digital books extends beyond the absence of paper.

Digital Books Require Energy

Electronic Devices and Energy Consumption:

While digital books save trees, they come with their own set of environmental challenges. The production, distribution, and disposal of electronic devices, such as e-readers, tablets, and smartphones, contribute to electronic waste (e-waste) and require energy-intensive manufacturing processes. Basically, creating devices creates pollution.

In the same way, powering devices causes pollution. Reading digital books necessitates electricity to power devices and data centers for storing and transmitting digital content. A study published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology found that the carbon footprint of e-readers can surpass that of paper books after a certain threshold of use, typically around 50 books per year.

In a way, environmental impact depends on how many books you read.

Looking at the Whole Picture

To really understand which is better for the Earth, we need to look at the whole process of making and using books. We can do this by using a technique called  lifecycle analysis (LCA). LCAs evaluate the environmental consequences of a product from raw material extraction to end-of-life disposal. Several studies have compared the environmental performance of digital and paper books using LCA methodologies.

A study conducted by the Cleantech Group found that reading 100 e-books per year over the course of four years has a lower environmental impact than reading the same number of paper books. However, this analysis heavily depends on factors such as device lifespan, energy efficiency, and the source of electricity.

Are Digital Books or Paper Books Better for the Environment?

The question of whether digital books are better for the environment than paper books does not have a straightforward answer. While digital books conserve trees and reduce carbon emissions associated with paper production, they introduce new environmental concerns related to electronic devices and energy consumption.

The real question here should be: How are you altering your personal habits to benefit the environment? 

Ultimately, the environmental impact of reading habits depends on various factors, including reading frequency, device longevity, and energy sources. To minimize their ecological footprint, you as a reader can opt for sustainable practices such as purchasing used books, keeping your device longer or recycling e-waste responsibly, and supporting initiatives to promote renewable energy.

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See many more digital comics available to read for free in the Borrowing Library! And don't forget to support creators by purchasing a digital collectible of their amazing stories and art.