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Are eReaders Bad For The Environment?

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Are eBooks environmentally friendly or are they worse than their print counterparts?

Raz Godelnik, co-founder and CEO of Eco-Libris, has a new article in the Independent Book Publishers Association‘s (IBPA) monthly journal called “Is E-Reading Really Greener?” positing this very question.

According to the piece, eBook devices can be very bad for the environment. Godelnik writes: “Consumer electronics are notorious for containing a variety of toxic materials. Some companies are more transparent than others and make it relatively clear that their e-reader devices are free of toxic materials. But e-readers are something of an unknown variable.”

And as new eReaders populate the market, the old ones are filling up landfills. While companies like Apple and Amazon have recycling programs, not everyone uses them. Godelnik points out in his article, “according to the EPA, Americans generated about 3 million tons of electronic waste in 2007. Out of all that waste, only 13.6 percent was recycled. The rest ended up in landfills or incinerators, even though, as the Electronic TakeBack Coalition explains, the hazardous chemicals in them can leach out of landfills into groundwater and streams.”

But eReaders aren’t entirely bad for the environment. If you read enough books on the same reader, they start to become better for the environment. In terms of carbon footprint alone, “the iPad becomes a more environmental friendly alternative option for book reading once its user reads the 18th book on it.” And according to the piece, “one e-reader does as much environmental damage as 40 – 50 print-on-paper books.” So eBook people looking to be environmentally friendly should really just keep on reading.

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