E-reader or paper book: which is more environmentally friendly?
E-readers are increasingly used for reading books. Is it a more ecological practice than reading on paper? The answer is very nuanced depending on the intensity of use and the number of structures.
Cultural products are also at the center of environmental issues. Books are one of them. Obviously, ordering online has a bigger carbon footprint than going to the bookstore around the corner. But what about certain development practices, such as using a reading light ?
Reading is increasingly done on the screen. According to barometer by 2021, 17% of respondents said they read books on digital screens. A figure that was only 8% in 2018.
Coincidentally, ADEME (Agency for Ecological Transition) announced, on November 17, 2022his report on assessment of the impact of digitization of cultural services on the environment ». l’study compares the use of e-readers and paper books. The ecological impact is a bit more nuanced than one might imagine: it depends on several daily parameters.
The reader has an ecological interest under certain conditions
Question ” intensity of use is at the heart of the ADEME report for all cultural products, and books are no exception.
If we take all indicators of the ecological footprint (resources and greenhouse gas emissions), reading a 300 page large format paper book has quite a small impact. It is lower than buying an e-reader. The comparison is mainly based on the cost of production. For the reader, these are the materials used to build the device (data cost is zero, each file is very lightweight). For the book, the impact on the environment is mainly in the production of paper. In fact, the paperback format has an even smaller impact, but only the new format was analyzed in this study.
Environmental profitability is therefore assessed in use. The e-reader is therefore more favorable, the study indicates, more than 10 readings per year. In this scenario, the small device then has ” less impact of climate change than reading on paper “. However, keep in mind that this applies exclusively to new paper books that have never been read again in their life cycle. So there is a nuance: Assuming that each book is reused at least twice, the reader has only a minor impact on the environment after 20 readings per year. »
It is clear that the ecological interest of e-readers is significant only because of the large number of new books in large format that are read each year. Obviously, and under the condition of keeping the same device for several years in a row. Refurbishing the eReader cancels out the cost-benefit ratio of the imprint (recall that product manufacturing is the key point of this imprint here).