Welcome to this month's Science in Fiction feature! Science in Fiction is a meme I created to showcase the wonderful aspects of science in Young Adult fiction novels. For more information and previous feature, check out the "Science in Fiction" tag!
This month, I'm featuring Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine!
Ink and Bone is the first book of a new series by the talented Rachel Caine. In this story's world, it is against the law to own books. The Great Library has all of the books available in a digital-type form to borrow, but no one is allowed to have printed copies of books. This was done with the purpose of limiting knowledge, but it got me thinking about the costs of printing books.
Today, I'm going to talk about the costs of books - printed vs. electronic!
This isn't a new discussion, especially in recent times. Most of the bloggers and reviewers I know have towers and towers of stacks of books (me included), as well as a Kindle or Nook or ereader of some sort. I have a Kindle, and I love it so much. There are easily over 300 books on my Kindle. But then, I have at least as many printed novels in my house. Problem? Maybe. Maybe not.
There are many benefits to ereaders, and printed novels! Of course. People may prefer one or the other. Printed novels are traditional and loved, and there something about holding a book in yours hands and smelling that new book smell and turning those stiff pages. But it's a wonderful thing to be able to carry hundreds of books in less than the weight of one book.
Personal preferences aside, there are environmental costs to both methods.
For printed novels:
- Consumption/clearing of trees: according to this article by Epublishers Weekly, one tree supports the life of about 63 books. There are about 2 billion books printed in the USA alone in a year. That's about 32 million trees. U.S. book AND newspaper production uses about 100 million trees per year, according to this article by CustomMade.
- Consumption/use of water: according to this article by The Atlantic, a sheet of paper requires more than THREE GALLONS of water. Wastewater is produced in high quantities. This wastewater is put in landfills, which will then contaminate groundwater, affecting people with wells, as well as aquifers and eventually, larger bodies of water. The book and newspaper industries use 153 billion gallons of water per year (source).
- Carbon footprint: according to the article by CustomMade, producing a book generates about 7.5 kg of carbon. This doesn't seem like a high number, especially when you compare it to the carbon footprint of the production of an ereader. But still, there is carbon generated in the process of creating a book.
- Consumption/use of water: according to the article by CustomMade, it takes up to 79 gallons of water to produce one ereader. ONE. And again, there will be wastewater. This wastewater is put in landfills, which will then contaminate groundwater, affecting people with wells, as well as aquifers and eventually, larger bodies of water.
- Carbon footprint: according to the article by CustomMade, creating one ereaders requires about 100 kilowatt hours of fossil fuels, generating about 65 pounds of carbon. And if you're using your ereader for more than 30 minutes a day, there is a carbon footprint associated (about 28 kg of carbon dioxide per year - source). According to this NY Times blog post, buying three ebooks per month for four years produces about 168 kg of carbon dioxide - but compares that 1,074 kg produced from buying three printed books per month for four years. This is considering costs AFTER production of the books.
- Waste: printed books can be recycled (we would hope that people would reuse/gift/sell/donate printed books, or recycle!). Ereaders (and e-waste) are relatively new to the recycling world. Most of the parts of ereaders are not recycled at the moment, whether they can be or not. Ereaders have a lot of toxic metals and components that leach in landfills and contaminate soils and groundwater (see this article).
(There are numerous other environmental costs when considering producing printed and electronic books. I highlighted some pretty big ones, but certainly not all of them.)
Bottom line? There are plenty of environmental costs to producing so many books per year. The sheer volume of books produced - printed or electronic - is staggering, and dangerous to the environment. Ebooks don't seem to have any positive effect on the environment - not while so many books are still being printed, and the components of ereaders are still very toxic and harmful.
Do you prefer print books? Ebooks? What are your thoughts on the environmental aspect of producing books, whether printed or electronic?