Web Designer / Web Developer, Net For Africa

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Traditional vs Electronic books - Which one is really Eco-Friendly?

I came up with this question when I was reading a book on my computer. Many people say traditional books pollute and harm the environment in order to be made.

I realized that my computer also pollutes, it uses electricity and that is done every time I or someone else reads an e-book or any document using his computer.

making a traditional book pollutes just once and then the book can be read a million times with no more pollution.

Do you still think traditional books pollute more than e-books? should we stop making more books and libraries for eBooks?

I need your opinions. Thanks

  • Nov 17 2013: I like your comparison between the two mediums of reading books and I think both of your arguments are valid except the fact that now we are creating/ using alternative forms of renewable and environmentally-friendly energy. Traditional books take more elements and effort to produce and I think it hurts the environment more than electronic books. Think about the process to make a book, cutting down the trees, transporting them to the facilities to break them down and create into paper, then the printing process as well. Many things are affected in this process, the deforestation of the environment, the wildlife that depends on the ecosystem, and the fuel and resources consumed during production. Though electronic books will take time to create a favorable energy source, I think the long term effects will outweigh the effects of traditional books.
  • Nov 8 2013: Traditional books are easy and comfortable to read because it does not puts strain on eyes and also you can read anywhere without worrying about the battery back up of the ebook device. But , ebooks have their own advantage you can have lots and lots of ebooks in a small memory card and can use that card on any device and read it.
  • Nov 4 2013: Sounds like an issue that people will continue to argue about. Which answer do you want?
  • Nov 7 2013: I think that traditional books are more eco-friendly than eletronic books because when we talk about eletronic books we aren`t just talking abou the specific book that we hold in our hands, we are also talking about the technology used to develop the eletronical devices to read it.
    If we use the argument that using the eletronic books we stopped the chop down trees it seems like a lie, because to build the place where the eletronical devices were made, to extract the ore inside the earth, and also to provide energy for these industries we need to cut trees.
    If the argument is that eletronic books have longer useful live instead traditional books it may be true in the part that the content can be stored to use in differents devices. However, with the fast development of new technologies the devices are quickly become obsolete, so we throw away these devices, and to recycle it is hard, you need to break the devices into his the differences pieces to recycle it separately. To recycle traditional books it sounds more easy than recycle eletronic devices.
    The eletricity is used during the production in both cases, and we also using eletricity to read, with the e-books we need to recharge them, and to read traditional books we need light.
    That is why I believe that traditional books are more eco-friendly than eletronic books.
  • Nov 7 2013: In my opinion, it is electronic books that is really eco-friendly. Because doing some reading on the internet or e-book reader will just waste elecric energy. But in terms of traditional books, in order to produce a book we have to finish a series of processes, like lumbering, making paper, printing, and each of these processes will prodece pollution to the environment. Apart from that, if we do not want to read a book again, what we should do is just delete a filer on the computer. But in terms of tradtional books, if we think a book is unuseful, it will become a stack of waste paper. Apart from that, although the production of an ebook reader will create some pollution, we are able to use it thousands of hunderds of times to read a large number of books. Therefore, the pollution that prodeced by ebook reader ought to be less that tradtional books.
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      Nov 8 2013: Actually e-waste from the IT industry is one of the most problematic pollution sources we have now. Computer hardware is full of all sorts of dangerous substances and is very difficult to recycle.
  • Nov 7 2013: I think Electronic book is Eco-Friendly. No one can count how many trees we cun down to make books and how much pollution is produced to make books. Since I was 5 years old, I started to in touch with books. I can not image how many books I needed through my whole study process.I did not need books, all I needed was knowledge inside the books. If I have a Electrinic books, I no longer need traditional. I can study knowlege and protect the environment at the same time. Although it cost electricity and als pollutes, but it is more Eco-Friendly compared with traditional books. With the development of the technolology and also the heavy polluted environment, I think Electronic books is more Eco-friendly and suitable for todays society.
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    Nov 5 2013: there is probably a break even point where the environmental impacts from a number of paper books outweighs the impacts of an electronic book reader.

    you'd need to look at the complete life cycle of books and ereaders as books may out last ereaders and be recycled but readers may be used to read thousands of books.
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    Nov 5 2013: Intuition tells me that ebooks are more environmental friendly, however, in order to know for sure one needs data showing one way or another.
    I think the theory that printed books can be read a million times doesn't hold because a) if you buy a book, in most cases you are the only one reading it (exceptions are libraries) and b) probably after a few hundred or maybe 1000 readers a paper book will fall into pieces.
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      Nov 8 2013: What about reference books that the one owner uses many times.
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        Nov 8 2013: You are right, some books are better in printed form, especially if you need jump around between pages.
        But I think the vast majority is just fine as e-book. It's probably more a question of getting used to something new.
        A little bit more complicated are audio books.
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    Nov 4 2013: It depends on the material of the text. A novel or text book is more efficiently done on paper as one book remains useful for many years and many users without further input of energy. For ephemeral works such as news reports or gossip magazines the short period of usefulness means you can't justify the initial energy outlay required for a print run. Horses for courses.
  • Nov 4 2013: Electronic books win out without even trying.
    You don't have to chop down trees for a start. Or make any ink. Or distribute them by train/truck/ship/whatever. The electronic book's electricity is nothing compared to that.
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      Nov 4 2013: I am not that sure Nadav.
      The electronic books are read in devices that use, as part of manufacturing process, rare earth materials. These materials are way too scarce compared to trees. Plus these materials are asymmetrically distributed over earth - they are found in places where an e-book is very low priority and are consumed in places where these are not available. That's an economic drain.
      Strange it may sound, trees need to be cut and that's a fact. So if we are so touchy feely about trees being cut let's stop producing wooden furniture, wall panels and house construction materials first. We sure have more economic and eco-friendly alternatives for all those.
      I read somewhere that for a person reading less than 23 books per year, a traditional book is a greener choice.

      Why books?
      • Nov 4 2013: For a start, it depends where you read the book, a specialized book reading device, or existing infrastructure (say, the computer I'm using to type this). In the case of existing infrastructure, the production of further electronics is a non issue.

        I rather doubt those rare earth materials are truly that rare (or perhaps they're only required in very small quantities), seeing as you can buy a book reader for under 100$ easy. Pretty sure they're also recoverable if someone has mind to recycle them.
        Say what you will about renewable trees, but the time, energy and work you spent printing them, as well as the fuel you burned getting them from A to B isn't coming back. Distributing digital copies is effortless compared to that, even if you include the electricity the device consumes while you read (not terribly much if you use a smart ink screen).

        Granted, I don't know enough about either field to start crunching the numbers, but its conventional wisdom that large paper based bureaucracies save money by going digital (long term anyway, the transition itself can be an issue). I see no reason for it to be different for books.
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          Nov 5 2013: Dear Nadav,
          It seems you are taking this debate to papers. I am talking about books.
          I think I have enough evidence to go into a complete ecological assessment of production and use of a traditional book versus an electronic one. That, IMO, would be too lengthy for this debate.
          However, humans are included in ecology and most often when we say 'eco-friendly' we seem to forget human necessities like economy and livelihoods.
          In a world where two thirds of humanity lives under 2 dollars a day, a hundred dollar investment for an e-reader makes little sense. When it comes down to the level of a, say, a cell phone, I think we can have a global movement in favor of e-books.
      • Nov 5 2013: I was asked about eco-friendliness, not getting the third world reading. That's a different question all together.

        Though it should probably be noted that with ready access to electricity and at least occasional access to the internet, e-books still come out cheaper in the long run. Or at least they will, once the market matures; at the moment, it seems e-books aren't selling for much less then their paper counterparts. Some competition ought to fix that.
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          Nov 5 2013: I think you were asked about eco-friendliness of books - traditional versus electronic.
          The 100$ point was raised by you so it is only logical to discuss how many of the world find that affordable.
          None of us mentioned the good old public library, where reading habit and culture grows and in second thought the carbon foot print of a traditional book gets averaged out to nothing.
          I thought the term third world has become inappropriate, like say, retard in civil discussions?
      • Nov 5 2013: Apologies if I offended anyone. We pretty much tossed political correctness out the window.

        There's nothing preventing libraries from lending digital books though. I suppose one could go about mimicking the traditional method electronically, but it makes more sense for a country to pay a one time sum and allow everyone to download a book for free.
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          Nov 5 2013: Yes, libraries can lend digital books but only after it is ensured that everyone has a Kindle to read it from.
          I think we both have made our points and not adding anything new in this thread. Thanks for replying.