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Are e-books more environmentally friendly?

Reading

They may save trees, but what about e-waste and energy consumption?

By Renata Harper

You’d think so – after all, no paper means fewer tracts of forests destroyed each year. Almost two-thirds of the publishing industry’s carbon emissions are from deforestation of natural forests, according to US stats. But it’s not that simple, says Raz Godelnik, CEO of Eco-Libris (a company committed to sustainable reading). The materials (such as plastic, copper and lead) from which e-readers and other reading devices (like tablets) are made are not necessarily a greener alternative – and energy consumption in manufacturing is still significant.

Toxic waste is ‘notorious in consumer electronics’, says Godelnik, and there are few recycling options (or a lack of awareness where these do exist). However, several reports suggest an LCD e-reader can offset around 40 books: if you replace five books a year, it’s going to take around eight years before you’ve offset your carbon footprint. (A New York Times analysis in April 2010, which also looked at total global warming effect, put the figure at 100!) And it gets better if you stop reading the paper forms of magazines and newspapers.

The final analysis?

An e-reader may be a greener option if you are an avid reader, says Godelnik – if you don’t upgrade it too soon.

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