Which is Greener: E-Readers or Paper Books?

Call of the Sun Child_Medal_nextgen

As an environmental studies grad, an author, and a lover of reading, I often think about the environmental impact of books. I wrote my first novel, Call of the Sun Child, in praise of the natural world–especially the magnificence of trees–yet every paper copy I sell is the carcass of a dead tree.

From across the forest come cracking, splintering calls. Suddenly I stop. In great, sweeping lunges the trees bend. Such music. Such majesty. This wind is different than that of the desert. It sings. Leaves become green-white waves. Warm, dancing.  – Call of the Sun Child (pg. 101)

Are the kindle, nook, and kobo versions any better? The e-readers take energy and petroleum-derived resources to manufacture, then they’re shipped great distances using fossil fuels, and then they’re charged using (most likely) more fossil fuels, and, at the end of their lives, they’ll contribute to e-waste, or, at best, be refurbished into another energy-sucking electronic gadget. Apparently, e-books are only more efficient for those who read a large amount of books. This makes sense. If you were reading lots and lots of paper books, it would take resources to manufacture each one. If you were reading all those books on a single e-reader, it would take one base amount of resources (more than for a paper book), but you have to read enough to make up for it.

I’ve heard many people say that they prefer the feel of a paper book. The smell. The crisp turn of the pages. And they’re collectible. There’s something charming about a bookshelf full of titles that mean something to you, and say something about your personality.

But then, isn’t that clutter? Isn’t that placing too much value on things? Wouldn’t an e-reader be much sleeker, simpler, and cleaner? That comes down to personal preference. Even if you’re a minimalist, you could narrow it down to the books that mean the most to you, and keep a small but heartfelt collection. Just buy the books you love, and get the rest from the library. Because, even though I’m an author and I want you all to buy my book, I’ll admit that the library is the greenest way to pursue your everyday reading.


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