Impact of Books on The Environment

Girl reading book next to the tree possibly contemplating the impact on the global carbon footprint of the book she was perusing

A book is a written text intended for reading. It can include words, pictures, or music and is typically bound in covers. Books come in many physical forms, such as Babylonian clay tablets, Egyptian papyrus rolls, mediaeval vellum codexes, and modern printed paper codex books that we are most familiar with today.

Books also leave an enormous environmental footprint; for instance, producing one e-reader requires extracting 33lb of minerals, including coltan from the Congo, and 100 kilowatt hours of fossil fuel use.

1. They save trees.

While many may believe e-readers to be the greener option, this is far from true. Each paperback book produces 7.5kg of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e). If unrecycled afterward, this pollution damages water bodies that provide habitat for aquatic species, causing significant environmental harm.

Paper production requires cutting down trees; instead, it would be more responsible to use existing trees and exploit their resources. Books help save trees both by decreasing demand for paper products and by encouraging people to plant more.

Physical books require more space and must be kept in clean, temperature-controlled conditions in order to remain available to readers, further increasing fossil fuel consumption.

A Kindle, on the other hand, can be used for years without ever producing any CO2. This contrasts to three printed books, which produce approximately 1,074 kg over their lifecycles and are then disposed of without being recycled—an essential step towards our planet’s sustainability.

2. They help reduce air pollution.

Air pollution is an increasing concern, and books help mitigate it. Papermaking contributes significantly to pollution by using natural resources like water, fossil fuels, and electricity in its production process; also released are greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and nitrous oxide into the environment as by-products, while printing inks, dyes, and glues may further negatively affect it.

Reading books can help reduce your environmental footprint, particularly when done via digital devices like an e-reader. One e-reader production and shipping are estimated to be equivalent to 22 books printed, so switching to digital reading could double your savings!

E-readers can be recycled to reduce their impact on the environment. Unfortunately, many e-readers manufactured in China and shipped over via aeroplane create additional carbon emissions that contribute to climate change. If you are an avid reader, an e-reader might last four years before needing replacement, which would significantly decrease carbon emissions and climate impact.

Consider how purchasing books from bookstores or libraries adds to your carbon footprint, since these businesses require energy to run their locations and make them available to consumers and use fossil fuels in transporting the books from publishers to various sellers.

3. They save water.

Reading books can be an effective way to reduce your environmental impact; however, you need to remember that books have their own environmental footprints that could potentially detract from reading itself. Printing is a particularly energy-intensive process that uses many natural resources and often petroleum-based ink for printing. Additionally, shipping books produces carbon emissions; one book is estimated to produce up to 7.5 kg of CO2.

Production of one paper book consumes up to 11 ounces of minerals and 7 1/2 litres of water, even when made from recycled paper, which represents only a minimal effort towards improving its environmental impact.

Shipping and returning printed books can pose their own set of problems. In the US alone, bookstores return between 25 and 36 percent of paper books purchased, which consume extra fossil fuel, to publishers for exchange. Unfortunately, most of these books end up in landfills, where their decomposition creates harmful fumes and toxic battery fluids that harm ecosystems for years.

4. They reduce waste.

Paper book production generates considerable waste. This process utilises numerous chemicals, such as pulp, alcohol, and inorganic materials, that pollute water sources while disrupting aquatic animals’ natural habitats and emitting greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.

A typical book produces approximately 7.5 kilogrammes of carbon dioxide equivalent, which measures the environmental impacts associated with production or use.

E-readers use only a fraction of the carbon emissions generated by traditional paper books. Over its lifecycle, an e-reader emits around 168 kilogrammes of CO2. To offset the emissions caused by purchasing one, such as an Amazon Kindle device,.

Production of one paperback book requires the death of 17 trees; by purchasing an ebook instead, you could save another 17. Additionally, once your reading session is over, rather than returning your e-reader back to its store once finished, Amazon Recycling accepts and recycles it directly, reducing waste sent directly into landfills.