E-reader or paper book: which is more eco-friendly?

E-readers are increasingly used to read 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 heart of ecological issues. Books are one of them. It is obvious that ordering on the Internet involves a stronger carbon footprint than going to a bookstore around the corner. But, what about certain developing practices, such as the use of an e-reader?

Reading is increasingly done on screen. According to a barometer by 2021, 17% of respondents said they read books on digital screens. A figure that was only 8% in 2018.

It so happens that the ADEME (Ecological Transition Agency) has published, November 17, 2022his report of assessment of the environmental impact of the digitalization of cultural services “. L’study compares the use of an e-reader and that of paper books. The ecological impact is a little more nuanced than one might imagine: it depends on several daily parameters.

The reader has an ecological interest under certain conditions

The question of ” intensity of use is at the heart of the ADEME report, for all cultural products, and books are no exception.

Reader or paper book: the intensity of use plays in the ecological interest.  // Source: Pexels
Reader or paper book: the intensity of use plays in the ecological interest. // Source: Pexels

If we take all the indicators of an ecological footprint (resources and greenhouse gas emissions), reading a 300-page large-format paper book has a fairly small impact. It is lower than buying an e-reader. The comparison is essentially made on the cost of production. For the reader, these are the materials used to make the device (the data cost is zero, each file being very light). For a book, the environmental impact is mainly in the production of the paper. In fact, a paperback format has even less impact, but only the novel format was analyzed in this study.

Ecological profitability is therefore to be assessed in use. An e-reader is thus more advantageous, indicates the study, more than 10 readings per year. In this scenario, the small device then has “ lower climate change impacts than reading on paper “. Please note, however, that this exclusively concerns 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 only has a lower environmental impact beyond 20 readings per year. »

Comparison of the ecological impact according to use between an e-reader and 3 paper reading practices.  // Source: ADEME
Comparison of the ecological impact according to use between an e-reader and 3 paper reading practices. // Source: ADEME

Clearly, the ecological interest of an e-reader is only significant from a large number of new books in large format read each year. Obviously, it is also on the condition of keeping the same device for several years in a row. Renewing the eReader resets the cost/benefit ratio of the footprint (given, let’s remember, that the production of the product is key point of this footprint here).

For further

Books everywhere everywhere everywhere!  // Source: Pexels

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