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?
OMG! Your post is very informative! I have always prefer print books. But printed or digital, they still contribute waste in our environment--and that is so freaking sad. :( -Kristelle @ AmiabookloverReplyDelete
It is! As I was writing this post, I was like oops... I'm feeling mighty guilty. I'd hate to be living in a time when, like in Ink and Bone, print books go out of fashion (so to speak...). But at the same time, it's not good for the environment. Then again, is anything human-related good for the environment? :oDelete
Wow! That's really interesting! Who'd have thought books were so bad for the environment?! I never would have guessed that! Interesting post, Alyssa! I prefer print books myself! I never would have guessed that ebooks would be kinda bad too!ReplyDelete
I feel like many people analyze the costs of the mass-production of books! It's not something most people think about - but as an environmental engineer, I've got to have a different mindset, especially when it comes to anthropological causes of harm to the environment!Delete
Thank you for doing the work of pulling in the facts on the cost of producing each and its effect on the environment. Off the top of my head, I had the idea that an ereader would be more environmentally friendly b/c I had no idea of the toxic components.ReplyDelete
Thanks for your research work and putting together the informative post, Alyssa.
Personally, I don't favor one type of book over the other. I have lots of both book formats.
There are metals that are used in many electronics that are poisonous and toxic to the environment AND to humans. Contamination is a growing problem! I think, when what goes into building an ereader gets more environmentally friendly, ereaders will be much more positive for the environment. But that will either (a) impossible, or (b) super expensive :/Delete
I definitely have a preference for hard copies (and not just because I can buy them used cheaply and/or lend them out or give them away without worrying about compatible file types). On the bright side, wood is a renewable resource. Grow, little Groots, grow! On the dark side, a bunch of books wind up in landfills. :( As the technology improves and prices fall, I wonder if we'll see publishers go to print-on-demand services instead of large initial printings. Either way, books are worth a little waste. If the cows are worth it despite their methane-production abilities, so are books. ;)ReplyDelete
"Renewable", if there is space. Trees can't just grow in any soil, especially since today, wastelands are a growing thing. And industries/companies are buying up land not to grow more trees, but to have farms or build factories, etc. Deforestation is a huge problem! I wouldn't call trees a "renewable" resource by any means!Delete
The argument with cows is food? But cattle do produce an astounding amount of methane, so idk.
True, deforestation is definitely a problem; but I guess I was thinking trees can be planted, grow, etc. as opposed to toxic computer parts that generally just sit there and contaminate landfills. Haha, the cow bit is just an upside/downside comparison. Not a good one, but both books and cows result in something environmentally unfriendly, but both are worth keeping around...something to that effect. :)Delete
No I see what you're saying! It's like there's no way to achieve a good outcome, in any case, when it comes to books/reading :oDelete
I love this post Alyssa. <3 Thank you so much for writing and sharing :) You are awesome. I prefer print books. But I need to start buying only ebooks, since limited space.. sigh. But ack, such high costs for printing books! Kind of awful, really :\ReplyDelete
Limited space is my problem too! Yet I can't give up the print books... and it seems like both are bad anyway. Whoops?Delete