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Are E-books Greener Than Paper Books?

John Platt, January 03, 2017

For people who love their Kindles, there's no other choice when it comes to reading books. But for the rest of us, is it time to make the switch to e-reading, or do paper books still hold the green advantage?

The answer depends a lot on your habits. If you read a lot -- as in, a *lot* -- then a Kindle or other e-reader is definitely the greener option. According to a recent study by TerraPass, this means reading about 20 to 40 books a year on your e-reader, or around a book every week or two.

A few factors impact this decision beyond the quantity of books you read. If you re-read books a lot, then paper might be the greener choice. If you don't have a bookstore near you, and need to either drive a long distance or mail-order your books, then an e-reader might be greener. If you're likely to replace your electronics every time a newer version of the device comes out, then you're not using them long enough and paper might be greener. If you live in a damp climate and your books are susceptible to mold, then e-books are the way to go. If you borrow a lot of books from the library, then paper is still (mostly) the easiest and best way to go. If you borrow or lend your books to your friends and family a lot, then physical books are the way to go (despite Amazon's new Kindle-lending program).

There's also the question of how you use a book. If you read a lot of non-fiction and textbooks and need to search and annotate your texts, then e-books could save you a lot of time, and that's green in a whole different manner.

The other thing to consider is the lifespan of a book after you read it. Many out-of-print books can be worth quite a bit on the secondary market. You can make money selling old books, as can your descendants if you pass the books on in your will. You can't re-sell an e-book. A used e-book has no value, making it absolutely un-green.

There's also the fact that books look good in your home, but they also cost a lot to move if you ever buy a new home. (Trust me, I've been there.)

So is there an easy answer to this question? Heck no. But you can boil it down to a few factors: if you read irregularly, want to buy local, and like having physical objects you can revisit, then stick with paper. If you read a lot and don't value keeping a book after you've read it, then go electronic. No matter what, go ahead and read. The authors of the world will thank you.

Tags: Books, E-waste, Energy, Green Electronics, Green Ideas, Save Energy, Teachers Lounge

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