Pixels Versus Paper

An old friend back at the Forest Society brought an interesting subject to my attention last week…he asked if I’d seen any research lately on which is greener – eBooks or printed books…or as he called it the carbon footprints of paper versus pixels. The majority of the info that he’d found actually came from the paper industry…so as you can imagine of course they claim their research shows that paper has a smaller carbon footprint than pixels—this prompted me to go online and do a little digging just to see what those whom are interested in the subject have to say.

In literature put out by International Paper titled Are Pixles Greener than Paper? they state Electric Data Centers (EDC) that power internet servers use 1.5% (enough to power 5.72 million homes) of the total energy purchased in the United States while the pulp and paper industry uses .7% (enough to power 2.76 million homes). They also say that the paper and pulp industry is one of the largest consumers of low-carbon and renewable energy with sixty percent of their energy coming from carbon-neutral sources, while the electronics industry purchases more than ninety percent of its energy off the grid and from fossil fueled sources. The consumption rate of data centers doubled in the U.S. from 2000 to 2006 and it is estimated that it will double again by 2011.

I took this report with a grain of salt since it was published by an international paper manufacturer, but they do bring up some good points when it comes to statistics on paper recycling versus electronics recycling…how many of you have wrapped something naughty up and stuck it in the trash because it’s just easier than taking said item to your local transfer station or waiting for the hazardous waste recycling days that seem to only come around once a year and of course the weekend that you are out of town—D’oh!

We all know paper is biodegradable, recyclable and reusable…but did you know that an estimated sixty percent of paper is recycled while only eighteen percent of electronics are e-cycled…with 1.84 million tons of electronic wast shipped to landfills in 2006 alone…I didn’t…YIKES!

On the other hand, according to Kris Kiler, the Founder and President of TypeLabs another way of looking at things from an eBook versus paper point of view is that 37 million pieces of paper thrown away each year do not get recycled, many retailers will even rip the cover off paperbacks to obtain credit for not selling the book—the rest goes in the garbage. There is also the gasoline used to get to the bookstore, for each gallon of fuel we use, we create 22 pounds of greenhouse gases and that doesn’t include modes of transportation that get the printed book to the retail outlet…

eBooks do need energy in order for you to read them, and yes there is an environmental impact of creating the device, driving to the store to pick it up—but you can use it over and over…the reuse of the device will most likely consume minimal energy when compared to the production and purchase of the paper book—and if you are able to purchase green energy from your local utility, you aren’t using an extreme amount of fossil fueled power to begin with. Those that are lucky enough to live within walking distance of the library (like me) have a lesser impact by borrowing books—but I’m sure my fellow bookworms like myself also own plenty of traditional dead tree books. The concept of Eco-Libraries is neat, but I’m not sure if I would really be jazzed about living in a world without the smell of old books…

So which do you prefer…pixels or paper…??

Posted by Amanda| follow me on Twitter

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One Response

  1. I’m still a paper fan I’m afraid but I am thawing…just a little
    Cath

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