Electronica vs. Print: Which Is More Environmentally Friendly?
Yesterday's letter challenging the idea that electronic catalogues are more environmentally friendly than printed catalogues prompted two strong responses.
David Wilk, owner of Booktrix, writes:
Some paper is made from renewable resources, but the energy cost, pollution cost and carbon impact of printed catalogues is very high. It's not just paper. There's also ink to be concerned with, and recycling has an energy and carbon cost. If you don't recycle, the paper and ink goes into landfills and causes pollution. Office papers are often coated stock and not biodegradable at all.
Using electronic documents will reduce paper use but will not by itself contribute to an increase in electronic device cost. Businesses already own computers for other business applications; therefore using the computer to read catalogues instead of paper does on its face reduce the pollution, energy and carbon contribution of catalogues.
Elizabeth Burton, executive editor of Zumaya Publications, writes:
Yes, paper is a renewable resource and biodegrades. Yes, electronics contain hazardous chemicals and metals, and far too many end up not in landfills but overseas where what amounts to slave labor, including children, are exposed to those chemicals and metals as they scavenge them.
But . . .
Each time a paper catalogue is printed, it uses those renewable resources again and again. And they don't biodegrade overnight, especially in modern landfills where, in fact, the breakdown of biodegradable materials can actually take longer than normal. Then you have to include the environmental impact of the printing process, the shipping process, the disposal process.
Each e-catalogue, on the other hand, goes to the same reading device each time it's published, so the resources used and abused by that device are spread over the life of the device.
The appropriate comparison, with regard to the environment, is printed catalogues as opposed to electronic catalogues, not the devices on which the e-catalogues are read. A study available at the Read an eBook Week site makes that comparison with essentially favorable results of print versus electronic.