Home Uncategorized What’s better for the climate: A paper book, or an e-reader?

What’s better for the climate: A paper book, or an e-reader?


The arrival of the summer reading season prompts a familiar debate: print or digital?

For many, the choice between paperbacks, e-readers, or audiobooks streamed on a phone goes beyond convenience to considerations of environmental sustainability. While the carbon footprint of reading may seem small compared to other activities like travel, it’s increasingly relevant for those seeking to reduce their impact on the climate.

Determining the most eco-friendly option is complex, as it involves a multitude of factors spanning the lifecycle of a published work, from production to disposal. Despite the rise of digital reading, traditional print publishing remains dominant, prompting efforts within the industry to improve the sustainability of paperbacks and hardcovers.

Print publishing, however, comes with its environmental challenges. The production of pulp and paper for print books ranks among the world’s top industrial greenhouse gas emitters, with millions of trees felled annually in the United States alone. Yet publishers are implementing strategies to mitigate these impacts, from donating unsold copies to using sustainable paper and redesigning books to minimize ink and paper usage.

On the digital front, e-books offer a paperless alternative, saving trees and reducing pulping and shipping. Tech companies like Amazon also provide recycling programs for e-readers. However, the manufacturing of digital devices contributes significantly to their carbon footprint, primarily due to fossil-fuel-derived plastics and resource-intensive battery minerals.

Ultimately, the eco-friendliness of print versus digital reading depends on various factors, including individual reading habits. While e-readers may offer the lowest carbon footprint over time, they require extensive use to offset their manufacturing impact. Thus, the choice between print and digital reading is nuanced, with sustainability considerations varying based on personal preferences and reading frequency.

Despite these complexities, reading remains a relatively sustainable activity, underscoring the importance of informed choices and ongoing efforts to minimize environmental impacts in the publishing industry.