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Green Guru: E-Readers

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Green Guru
Advice for the Eco-minded

How do e-readers stack up to books?
Julia Hollinger, Philadelphia, PA

Skinny and stylish, e-readers like the iPad and Kindle are the hip new way to read. But whether they’re more eco-friendly than traditional bound books isn’t as clear as their illuminated screens. Two e-reader life-cycle analyses have turned up contradictory results. “E-readers could have a major impact on improving the sustainability and environmental impact of the publishing industry, one of the world’s most polluting sectors,” concluded Cleantech, a market research firm that studied carbon created during the life of the devices. Yet when considering the use of fossil fuels, as well as water and minerals, a paper book has a much smaller effect, found author Daniel Goleman and Harvard lecturer Gregory Norris. For instance, a book made of recycled paper requires two-thirds of a pound of minerals (primarily gravel for road construction), whereas an e-reader uses 33 pounds for its electronic components and infrastructure. As a result, they conclude, e-reader owners would have to read 40 to 50 e-books to break even on most of the environmental costs. (The average e-reader owner buys 31 books a year.) For now your greenest bet is a loaner from the library.
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