Which is Greener: Buying Digital Readers or Reading Books from the Library?

| 7/27/2010 11:27:35 AM

Whether it’s in a book, magazine, or newspaper, turning pages is one of life’s smallest pleasures. But with the current trend toward digital readers such as the Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble’s Nook, that tangible connection to a paper publication is disappearing for some bookworms.

It’s easy to see the environmental benefits of a digital reader. They save paper and ink, and cut back on the transportation used to deliver books. Selling digital files of books also reduces the number of paper copies filling up landfills. Every year, 20 million trees are used in the U.S. for book production alone, according to the Green Press Initiative. That doesn’t even include the extra 95 million trees a year for the newspaper industry.

E-reader with books
Digital readers can hold up to 1,500 in a compact, portable format. But do they take the fun out of having a personal library visible to others? Photo By goXunuReviews/Courtesy Flickr 

It’s not just paper that’s a problem for the environment. A 2009 study by the Cleantech Group suggested that books have the highest per-unit carbon footprint in the publishing industry. But do digital readers really offset this? In the same study, Cleantech Group predicted that e-readers purchased from 2009 to 2012 could prevent 9.9 billion kilograms of carbon dioxide from being released during the four-year time period.

Before you purchase an e-reader, consider its carbon footprint. Electronics productions demands copious amounts of energy and resources, and some electronics contain questionable materials such as mercury and PVC.

Most e-readers cost anywhere from $150 to $400, depending on size and model. Both the Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook hold 1,500 books, making a digital reader like a portable library. Each title costs less than $10 and typically saves you at least half off of the cover price.

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