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What is the most sustainable way of reading a book?

Both printed and digital books have an environmental impact. Let’s find out what the greenest way of reading is.

Reading is magic: through books you are thrown into another world, another time and even another body. “At the age of 70, those who don’t read will have led only one life: their own! Those who read will have lived 5000 lives: they were there when Cain killed Abel, when Renzo married Lucia and when Leopardi admired the infinite… because literature is backwards immortality”, wrote Umberto Eco.

leggere all'aria aperta

The environmental impact of books

But books have an environmental impact on the Planet, too, either if they are printed or electronic books. So, let’s try to understand what the most sustainable reading option is. In the first place, we have to assess the environmental impacts of paper books and e-books.

One could think that the former are more harmful to the environment because trees are cut down to produce them. But even when reading e-books on our computer, tablet, smartphone or e-reader we can damage the environment.

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The most ecological choices

We should take into account the whole life cycle of a book and assess every phase of its existence. E-books, as many technological devices, are produced with minerals, non-renewable sources and toxic substances; we should also consider that to manufacture an e-book a large amount of electricity is wasted and packaging, transport, the energy consumed while using the device and the disposal of the product are harmful to our Planet.

According to the New York Times the materials use to produce an e-reader equals at least fifty printed books. While the Book Industry Environmental Council (Biec) is more optimistic as it claims that the increasingly use of e-readers will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050.

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On the other hand, to produce a traditional paper book 27 kg of CO2 are emitted into the atmosphere and 24 trees are cut down. Fortunately, publishers are increasingly committing themselves to use recycled or Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) paper, which ensures that the raw materials used during the manufacturing process are respectful of forests.

According to a study carried out in 2009, e-books have a greater impact than printed books, but when a considerable amount of paper books is collected, the impact of the latter balances that of the former. In conclusion, what is the most sustainable way of reading?

Stockholm Public Library

The secret is buying as little books as possible, either printed or electronic. The greenest way of reading is borrowing books from libraries, share them with friends and give away those that one doesn’t read anymore. Sharing, one of the most common words in the social network era, is what libraries have always been based on.

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