International Paper recently released “Are Pixels Greener Than Paper”, which compares the environmental profile of ink-on-paper publications (dead tree editions) to digital publications (what I call “dead dinosaur editions” because of the fossil fuels and petrochemicals they consume). It has good points backed by in-depth research, but we need to translate and reformat the PR-speak into something more understandable to the general public.
With The Wall Street Journal's bogus claim yesterday that "e-textbooks are environmentally friendly", it's more important than ever to take a realistic look at e-books. Therefore, Dead Tree Edition offers this color-coded "tale of the tape" (as they say in boxing circles) comparing Dead Dinosaur Editions with Dead Tree Editions on key attributes, with quotations from the IP brochure:
- Raw Materials:Paper is a renewable resource. The North American “paper and forest products industry replenishes more than it takes and ensures the sustainability of our forests by planting 1.7 million trees every single day, more than three times what is harvested.” But as for dead dinosaur editions, “making a computer typically requires the mining and refining of dozens of minerals and metals, including gold, silver and palladium, as well as the extensive use of plastics and hydrocarbon solvents.” No one is planting dead dinosaurs into the ground to make more oil for the petrochemicals that digital devices consume.
- Energy/Carbon Footprint: “Sixty percent of the energy used to make paper in the U.S. comes from carbon-neutral renewable resources and is produced on site at mills.” “The electronics industry uses more than 90 percent fossil fuels purchased off the grid."
- Recycling:“In the U.S., nearly 60 percent of all paper is recycled, recovered and reused to make new paper products.” Electronic devices have a recycling rate of only 18%.
- User Editing: The Journal article says most students prefer dead-tree textbooks to dead-dinosaur textbooks, partly because they can't highlight important passages or write notes in e-textbooks.
- Reliability: Digital editions are often read on machines running Windows or Vista. 'Nuf said. Dead-tree editions never crash, get infected with viruses, receive spam, or serve pop-up ads.
- Durability: Ever dropped a laptop? Not pretty.
- Lifespan: I read a 150-year-old book the other day and have 75-year-old copies of National Geographic, but my 15-year-old WordPerfect for DOS files are either unreadable or FUBAR. How many of today’s laptops, e-book readers, and iPhones will still be in use five years from now?
- Waste: “The lifespan of a computer is short, and electronics have become the fastest growing waste stream in the world.” Much of that waste is toxic. Paper is reusable, recyclable, and biodegradable.
- Personal Hygiene: Speaking of waste, which would you rather read while sitting on the toilet, a magazine or a Kindle? And remember that, before they had toilet paper, our ancestors had the Sears, Roebuck catalog. Ever tried to wipe your bottom with a Blackberry?