Amazon.com is selling more E-Books than traditionally bound hardcover books. Is that good for the environment? Back when Apple was getting all that buzz leading up to the release of the iPad, The Daily Green looked at the issue. Here's what we found:
The death of printed media would save about 125,000 trees annually (and unfortunately kill a lot of jobs, most likely, in the process). That's a lot of trees enough that a book reader who burns through one new book every two weeks would pay off the environmental debt created by an e-reader in just a year (at least as measured in carbon dioxide emissions). That's according to a Cleantech analysis that measured the relative impact of e-readers, using the Amazon Kindle as its test case. Of course, because Amazon doesn't make plain just how resource-intensive the Kindle is, and because many people read fewer than two books a month (or choose borrowed, used or library books rather than buying new hardcovers) the analysis has inspired some persuasive skepticism by Raz Godelnik, CEO of Eco-Libris, an organization trying to reduce the environmental impact of reading. But he's optimistic about the Apple tablet.
"Although we have had the Kindle and other reading devices around for over two years, we still can't say if these devices are better for the environment compared to the traditional paper books," Godelnik said. "We're still waiting for a life cycle assessment that will tell us if e-readers are greener or not, and one of the reasons we don't have it yet is that the current manufacturers don't seem to be willing to provide all the necessary information required for such an assessment. My guestimation is that they just don't see too much importance in proving that digital books not only save paper, but are actually better for the environment. We hope Apple will look at it differently."
But one shouldn't consider only displaced print media in the tablet equation, according to both Godelnik and Christopher P. Conway, of GreenT Digital.
"What you're going to see is these devices will replace netbooks and laptops, and the Kindle and the nook," Conway said. "A lot of people may have it be their primary means of accessing the Internet. I think that's very positive."
"These devices are 3G-enabled," Conway added. "It is a game changer. People could stop getting cable Internet at home. If you could do all your social media, emailing, accessing photos ... what is really left that you need a desktop or laptop for?" And with those clunky desktops and laptops goes large demands for precious metals and plastics (replacing a 5- or 10-pound laptop or 30-pound desktop with a one-pound tablet) as well as energy (replacing as much as 100 watts of energy demand with as little as 1 watt).
So then, there is some real potential for the Apple iPad and similar devices to reduce the strain on the environment caused by both our print and electronic habits ... if, that is, it is built smartly and responsibly and we change our existing habits. A big part of the growth in electricity demand in the past decade is the proliferation of electronic devices. A big part of the toxic waste stream is the e-waste from all those discarded last-generation devices. Will we substitute the tablet for our other electronics?
If you are ready to get rid of an old cell phone, laptop, iPhone, digital camera or other electronic device and want to harvest some cash in exchange for it, one option is NextWorth, which will pay you for your old phone. Other recycling options include Dyscern, a 2009 Heart of Green award winner, these four charity cell phone recyclers, and the electronics manufacturers themselves. Curious what the most valuable used cell phones are? The Daily Green has a list of used cell phones worth $125 or more.
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