Paint the Town “Read”

Chapter 5: Eco-Friendly Reading – E-Books vs. Traditional Print

“Books are no more threatened by Kindle than stairs by elevators” ~ Stephen Fry

Ah, the age-old debate, as vicious as the one on pineapple and pizza: E-Readers vs. Printed Books. Their battle has been legendary.

The Chinese did it first, with their wooden blocks and then a European went down in history as the Father of Printing — the Print Revolution certainly has had its ups and downs. From pages of goatskin to papyrus manuscripts to mass-produced novels, the world has come a long way since humans decided to pen down language. The 21st century brings another milestone in this journey, the advent of E-Books.

In the great words of one, Jeff Bezos, “E-books had to happen.”

Now, Kindles aren’t as sinister and dark as the older generation makes them out to be. Economical, wide accessibility to literature and convenience are just some of the reasons given by people who have made the switch from paper to digital. Unfortunately, the biggest argument given by the e-print naysayers is ‘E-books don’t smell good”. While both sides continue to wage their war, where does this leave you? Which is the environment friendlier alternative?

Get ready for some statistics, it’s going to get messy.

Over the past 50 years, both the number of books and e-readers produced and sold has increased tremendously. The reason? A growing market for literary content irrespective of the format. Now, with greater sales, come greater questions, namely – what are the environmental and social costs?


While a single e-reader requires about 35 pounds of minerals including toxic metals and lithium and gallons of water, books do the deed using 2 to 3 pounds and a lot lesser amount of H2O.

Unfortunately, widespread deforestation is something we cannot ignore. In the US alone, the book and newspaper industries harvest more than 100 million trees, leaving behind a gigantic carbon footprint (think Bigfoot but on the environment).


The bulky, chugging machinery of factories uses up an enormous amount of fossil fuels to produce their respective goods. However, this point goes to the books which release almost 100 times fewer greenhouse than their virtual counterparts. Even volatile compounds released after ink production for print isn’t enough to cover the ever-widening gap in the two manufacturing processes.


There is no shortage of studies when it comes to this. Some say that a year’s use of Kindle allows you to break even the mineral consumption, fossil fuel, and water wastage that took place during production. Others claim that about 22 virtual books are enough to offset the damage.

The bottom line is that how long, how often, and for what purposes your print or digital material is used matters. This affects energy consumption which is plagues both e-readers (charging and brightness) and traditional media (tube lights for reading at night).

When it comes to longevity, books if taken proper care of, have an edge over the rapidly changing tech of e-books. Also, since they can easily be shared, there is a reduction in the need to produce additional copies of books.

Maybe years later, they would make an Epic Rap Battle of History about this, with no clearly defined winners.


Did the big data and analysis leave you more confused than ever? Don’t worry, no one is forcing you to give up one for the other; living in the technology era isn’t easy. On the plus side, here’s a few fool-proof methods for you eco-conscious readers out there:

  • Put that library subscription to good use. Whenever possible, borrow or buy second-hand books.
  • Use your e-reader until it can’t be used anymore. Just because there’s a newer, glitzier version in the market doesn’t mean your old one won’t fulfill its purpose.
  • Choose recycled books and eco-conscious vendors who go the extra mile. Spare a bit of that internet time to read up on those in your locality.
  • Be aware! A smart bibliophile calls out publishers and manufacturers and urges them to get their environmental act together.

Keep these things in mind and they’ll be your good deed for the day. Mother Nature would be grateful!

Pumped about saving the environment and reading? Here are a few book recommendations from the exciting, up and coming genre – eco-fiction.


** DISCLAIMER – There are multiple studies on the print or digital debate with varying conclusions. The author aims to provide information to the readers about the climatic effects of reading and draw their own conclusions and solutions.

– Bhavya Nayak, Delhi Public School, Noida


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