Green Books: E-reader vs Books – which are greener?

Welcome to the fourth post in my series about green books!

It's one of the hot topics for many people who love reading – to buy an e-reader or not. In this post I'll attempt to pull together some information on the environmental aspect of this debate.

I admit - I love books. Real books with paper pages. Plus I'm not a gadget person, to the extent that I don't even have a mobile phone. I can't imagine using an e-reader but I do want to find out whether my old fashioned attitude is environmentally damaging or not!

Comparing the environmental impact of e-readers and books is a tricky business. Most companies aren't exactly transparent about the environmental impact of their e-readers for a start!

Measuring the carbon footprint at the consumer end is relatively easy, though statistics I've read vary from 10 – 100 books being the number you need to read on an e-reader to reduce its carbon footprint to below that of new paperback books. So, if you read a lot it you can reduce your carbon footprint by buying an e-reader as long as you aren't tempted to upgrade it too often.

But environmental impact is about so much more than carbon footprint.

What about production methods? E-readers contain coltan – a controversial mineral that is linked to environmental and social injustices including fuelling conflict in the Congo.

What about e-waste? Tonnes of computers, mobile phones and (in the near future, e-readers) are discarded every year, filling large landfill sites often in the developing world where thousands of people are employed to extract the valuable minerals with great hazards to their health. Yes this is recycling, but with unacceptable side effects.

In most comparisons between e-readers and books, the books under consideration are new books made with paper from virgin pulp. As you can read in my previous blog-post in this series, the publishing industry is slowly moving towards becoming more environmentally friendly. And if you read library books or buy second hand books then you are reusing books - a very environmentally friendly activity.

For more information:

Ecolibris has a good list of links on this topic and an article on how to green your e-book reading.

Centre for Alternative Technology's analysis of the environmental impact of a new paperback book.

Wikipedia page on e-waste.

Information on the film Blood in the Mobile about the environmental and social impact of coltan mining.


  1. That was very interesting information! Especially for smeone who doesn't want an e-reader.

  2. ... and helpful for someone who thinks she might possibly like an e-reader (though I have still to think further on this ...). Thank you, Juliet, for laying these facts before us.


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