Monday, February 1, 2010

Newspapers Are Greener Than Web News, Says Environmental Expert

Which is greener, getting news online or reading a newspaper? For environmental expert and activist Sarah Westervelt, the obvious answer is the printed newspaper.

“It doesn’t take electricity to read my paper,” she said in a video posted recently at PBS' Mediashift site. “I’m too informed about what’s going to happen to my computer when I’m done with it and too concerned about that” to rely on the Web for news.

“I try to rely on the really good bio-compatible materials that have been around a long time,” said Westervelt, who as e-stewardship director at the Basel Action Network has done much to expose the bogus “recycling” of toxic wastes from discarded electronic gadgets.

“If everybody stops reading newspapers then perhaps we stop growing trees,” Westervelt said during the video, which was taken from a discussion sponsored by USC Annenberg's Specialized Journalism Program. Among other participants in the discussion were the production directors of the San Jose Mercury News and Chronicle Books.

Westervelt didn’t claim that everything about printing and paper is environmentally friendly, noting that trees for paper are sometimes grown on single-species plantations. But those issues pale in comparison with the many toxic materials and “15 different plastics” typically found in computers, she said.

Unlike paper, computer components do not lend themselves well to recycling and reuse because “you have this really complex waste combined with not enough value in the materials to pay for responsible recycling,” Westervelt said.

“So what we have is companies that are presenting themselves as recyclers and really what they are is waste brokers. They are just consolidating, loading up shipping containers and it goes off to China or India or Pakistan. And it’s just having absolutely horrific impacts in a lot of these developing countries to both human health and the environment.”

For a briefer and more light-hearted defense of printed newspapers against the digital onslaught, check out this video of a male a capella quartet doing a fabulous take-off on Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy”, with lines like "Does that make us crazy? Wanting you to read."

And, yes, this blogger does check his facts twice.

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Jess @ Openly Balanced said...

I think this argument would be more effective if Westervelt was actually giving up her computer for a newspaper. However, it seems unlikely that she is going to avoid being a part of the full lifecycle costs of owning a computer just because she chooses to read a printed newspaper. My guess is that she probably still has her computer, so is adding a printed newspaper really a better deal?

It seems like if you're concerned about e-waste but not willing to give up all your electronics, best practice would dictate buying the least harmful electronic device and keeping the bulk product going with small internal upgrades for a long as possible.

latex mattress said...

The problem of electronic waste disposal is a tricky one. In rural areas such as where I live, electronic recycling centers can be far away and most people don't get to them. With the rapid growth in sales of electronics it is likely to become a serious national problem. The only foreseeable solution may be new technology that somehow breaks down the components into less toxic and persistent form.

Latex Mattress Toppers said...

Hi, the only foreseeable solution may be new technology that somehow breaks down the components into less toxic and persistent form.


Lauren said...

This article makes the worst arguments I've ever read. People don't go out and buy computers just to read the news obviously, we already have our laptops and smart phones that we would read an online paper on. Printed paper however are printed on materials from tree farms of monocrop trees that are terrible for the environment. Then they cut the trees,which requires gas guzzling machinery. Once the trees are cut they need to be shipped to a plant on huge gas guzzling trucks to be converted into paper, then they need to be shipped to the printer, and then around the country to readers. Not to mention the ink that needs to be produced and shipped. This article is stupid and not thought out at all.