So with iPads and Kindles abounding, what’s the greenest way to read these days?
A (relatively) recent NY Times article by Daniel Goleman and life cycle assessment guru Gregory Norris dug into the question. Turns out it depends on what timeframe you use for your calculations. Any e-reader certainly takes a lot more energy and resources to produce than a book, but when you factor in the fact that a book is limited by the sum of its pages while reading on an e-reader is (almost) infinitely expandable, then an e-reader starts looking greener the more you read.
How much do you need to read to break even? Energy, water, and mineral consumption should balance out after reading 40 to 50 books. However, toxic emissions linked to cancer and other human health concerns don’t register a net improvement until you’ve read ~75 e-books (assuming you’re replacing new book purchases with e-book purchases), and greenhouse gas emissions don’t balance out until you’ve read over 100. Dealing with electronics waste is a particularly vexing problem, though companies like Apple are starting to offer rebates when you turn in your old gizmos for recycling.
So if you’re a voracious devourer of text then an e-reader may win the eco day, but the best pick is probably still a trip to the library, or bumming a good read off a friend. Last time we checked though, our well-worn Harry Potter collection didn’t offer Facebook and HD movies on a plane, so we’re not entirely convinced a spiffy new iPad isn’t still an utmost necessity.