Paper vs digital environmental impact
Which is greener, paper books or ebooks? Are your reading habits harming the planet? A paper book, magazine, or newspaper is a tangible item that you can pick up and hold while you are reading it. A digital book, magazine, or newspaper is an intangible virtual item. The thing that you touch or hold in your hand for reading is an electronic device like a desktop computer, notebook, tablet, e-reader, or smartphone.
Paper and digital media do have some common environmental issues including:
- Extracting materials, whether it is logging trees or mining minerals and metals, damages and pollutes the surrounding land and water harming wildlife and people.
- Making paper and manufacturing electronic devices requires huge amounts of energy and water.
- Transporting everything from raw materials to finished goods via fossil fuel powered trucks, ships, cars, and airplanes produces greenhouse gases and air pollution.
- Manufacturing facilities, warehouses, retail stores, data centers, and libraries require energy and water to operate.
- Throughout its life cycle, each product generates nontoxic and toxic waste, including during recycling.
Making paper requires trees. Thousands of things are made of wood and paper so it is not just books, magazines, and newspapers contributing to destroying forests. Paper companies point out that trees can be grown and are therefore a renewable resource. This is true. However, a tree plantation containing a specific type of tree planted for harvesting does not replace a forest ecosystem.
At the end of their useful life, desktop computers, notebooks, tablets, e-readers, and smartphones contain both valuable materials that can be recycled and toxic materials that require special handling. However there is little financial incentive for recycling so the majority of unwanted and obsolete electronic devices end up as e-waste in landfills where they leach toxins into the soil, air, and water. Even worse, we ship tons of e-waste overseas where people, including children, recycle items by hand with no safety equipment.
Overall the greenest option would be cutting down on shopping and visiting your local library where you can read paper books, magazines, and newspapers to your heart’s content and use an electronic device to read many digital items, too.
To enable homes to recycle in an ethical way, STE Waste Management now offer a FREE computer recycling drop off service for: Recycling old laptops, PC's, Apple computers, monitor screens, batteries, mobile phones and confidential shredding service for central, south Manchester and Cheshire.
Source: Green Groundswell