Are e-readers environmentally harmful?

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Andrej B

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Are e-readers environmentally harmful?
« on: 06/02/2011 16:30:05 »
Andrej asked the Naked Scientists:
Hello Naked Scientists,

I would like to know if there are reliable estimates on the environmental impact of eReaders like the kindle (no backlight) or the iPad (with backlight).

Ebooks eliminate the need for transport of books to and from stores (due digital distribution) and also the need for printing, thus saving paper and energy. Estimates on the production energy cost, raw materials and electricity-use make me believe a reasonable number of digitally read books (or scientific papers) will make up for the environmental impact of the eReader device itself.

But I found it hard to quantify the ongoing contribution of data centers needed for digital distribution. Could you say something on the environmental impact of eReaders as compared to print books, magazines and scientific papers? Can a purchase be justified on environmental grounds?
Andrej Bicanski

PS: love the show :-)

What do you think?
« Last Edit: 13/05/2014 15:56:00 by chris »


Offline Mazurka

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Are e-readers environmentally harmful?
« Reply #1 on: 07/02/2011 10:46:55 »
A big problem with the sort of life cycle analysis that you are looking for is that the closer you look, the more complicated things become. This is coupled with the problem that there is no universally accepted methodology to do such an analysis and that any such analysis will ignore the utility of a particular object or form.

The other issue is volumes.  Whislt e-readers are novel,(sorry) their environmental cost will be higher as it should include an ammount for the development costs of the devices and the costs of digitising older material - this will reduce proportionately in time.   

Personally, a paper book, which can be read many times, and redistributed (reused) when no longer needed or recycled has the edge over a device continaing rare earth elements and other materials  that carry a significant environmental cost in production. 

However, if you compare with a newspaper, which has daily printing and distribution costs and although they can be recycled they are seldom reused, e-readers may have (in the near future)an environmental advantage.  (This is painful as it means i amost agree with Rupert Murdoch)