E-Books vs Traditional Books Essay Paper

iPad — a Greener Option?

There is much debate on whether the iPad is a greener option than printed books. Where some believe that iPad is the greener option, some still believe print books are still the better option, especially when borrowed from a public library that spreads the carbon footprint over an entire community. Print books use 8.85 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per book, but only when being produced. The iPad uses much less at production, but carbon dioxide emissions are spread over the lifecycle of the product and are not as easy to calculate due to how consumers use the device, electronic power sources, and the toxins involved in the materials used to produce the device.

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Print book waste stems from large print overproduction in manufacturing, editorial error, and how consumers dispose of unwanted print books. Manufacturers print large quantities of books that may are not all sold and, in turn, incinerate, which releases more carbon dioxide, or recycles them. Editorial error can cause twice the environmental impact from having to redo the printed material. When consumers place unwanted books in the landfill, it also impacts the environment where the paper is not recycled and reused.

Where e-waste is a growing environmental problem, the iPad contributes to that problem with components that cannot be recycled and toxins in component parts that cause social and environmental impacts. Plastics do not decompose back to the earth and are not recycled. Toxins, such as columbite and tantalite, used in the production of e-books are causing health problems as well as social problems in underdeveloped countries. There is also the question of exhausting valuable resources that do not reproduce themselves, such as lithium used in the battery.

The technological changes add to the environmental impacts where upgrades cause obsoleteness in a few years. More devices get discarded, some inappropriately. The impact of new designs and functions increases carbon dioxide emissions with each upgrade to new versions.

Other factors that influence the determinations of which method is the most ecofriendly is consumer usage. Studies are showing it is hard to calculate the consumer usage of reading e-books with temptations of searching the internet, checking email, visiting other websites, or having more than one book open at a time, which can increase distractions. Calculating how much time is spent actually reading an e-book or determining the number of sessions reading is not easily determined with the distractions.

Still other factors of influence include the weight of the iPad, theft temptation, and accidental breakage. The iPad is heavier and bulkier, which can affect the ease of use. Theft temptation can be high due to the consumer costs of the device and the ease of selling it. Accidental breakage can cause needed repairs or disposal and replacement, which can add to the environmental impact depending on the method of disposal.

The rationale of this paper is to determine if the iPad is a greener, more viable option, to the use of printed books. Section two will discuss the print book carbon footprint. Section three will discuss the carbon footprint of the iPad. Section four compares the two as mediums for users. Section five discusses the problems with iPads. And, section six discusses the conclusion that the viability of the iPad as a replacement depends on toxicity of component parts and the consumer usage in terms of how many e-books are read on the device as well as the time spent in reading and reading sessions.

2. Print Book Footprint

According to Eco Libris (2011), people buy 57 books per second or almost five million books per day. Each paper book gives off 8.85 pounds of carbon dioxide according to 3D Issue (2012), which equals 4.425 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide each day. Godelnik (2008) explains the biggest environmental impact is from forests and forests harvest at 62.7% of the total carbon footprint and production at 22.4%. The main issue is carbon taken from trees being cut down and from trees taken from Endangered Forests where the most significant impacts are social (severe damage to biodiversity, fundamental changes and losses in natural systems, severe impact on various species, etc.). This does not include water resources or fossil fuel usage.

A large part of printed waste stems from overproduction and editorial errors. Even though recycled paper is gaining in popularity, the biggest hurdle with more use of recycled paper is cost due to increasing demand and a lack of corresponding infracture development. Other issues in printed waste stem from consumer use, whether books are shared with others, bought used or new, and how many end up in the landfills.

3. iPad Carbon Footprint

The iPad is made from plastics (made from oil), metal, glass, other mineral resources, and battery (lithium) according to the Green Press Initiative (2011), and over its lifecycle uses 287 pounds of carbon dioxide, not counting fossil fuels, water, and other mineral consumption. E-Books also use some resources, such as columbite and tantalite that create negative social impacts. The iPad increases impacts on health by as much as 70% compared to a printed book. Vijayaraghavan (2012) claims that figures at this point are estimates and not actual results.

With e-waste as an increasing major environmental problem, the iPad contributes to the problem as not all components cannot be recycled. Research suggests, on average, the carbon dioxide emitted from the device over its lifecycle is offset after the first year of use and 22.5 e-books downloaded Hutsko (2009). But, Moran (2012) found that the eReader accounts for an initial carbon footprint of 200-250% greater than a household library and increases with each replacement eReader. Another consideration is the use of more than one in the household that would add the same impact for every eReader, the more prolonged use, higher demands on resources results from higher sales, and outdated devices not discarded appropriately. The figures did not account for all resources used.

Upgrades in the iPad have also shown to have increasing environmental impacts with each upgrade. Godelnik (2012) compared the carbon footprint of the iPad2 to the new iPad and found a significant 40% increase. In production the iPad used 75.4 kb CO2e, iPad2 used 85.8kgCO2e, with the new iPad using 120.6kgCO2e. Materials showed changes from the iPad to the iPad2 with display decrease of 7%, plastics decrease 47.4%, other metals increase 7.7%, circuit boards unchanged, glass decrease 2.6%, battery increase 56.5%, and aluminum decrease 3.6%. Depending on the mode of the new iPad (100v, 115v, 230v, respectively), sleep showed increase of 41%, 59%, and 56%, idle-display increased 70%, 71%, and73%, with power adaptor showing no changes. With customer use approximately 25% of CO2e, this shows a significant increase in energy usage from each upgrade over time. The new iPad weight 662 grams, compared to the iPad2 at 613 grams, and uses 2.4% more retail boxing and 1.1% more shipping and retail boxing.

4. iPad vs. Print Books

The iPad can hold a whole library of books in a compacted space compared to print books on multiple shelves. The advantages of e-books consist of saved highlights, unlimited notes, online dictionary, as well as the ability to share quotes, and search. Challenges include temptation to check email or search the web, as well as having multiple books open at one time that creates distraction.

A study conducted by Morrone, Gosney, and Engel (2012) found that iPad use for education created greater levels of student engagement, opportunities with new learning environments and activities, and extended learning opportunities. The benefits of using the iPad for education included enhancing interest and creative exploration, creation of innovative and effective learning environments, and showed potential for health sciences. The challenges consisted of distraction, learning new tools, ensuring activities were appropriate vs. iPad functionality, and providing less functionality than computers.

On the other hand, some consumers still feel that printed books are more beneficial in sharing, readability, and can be more cost beneficial depending on if they are bought new, used, rented, or borrowed from public libraries. Although, research has shown that less than a third of Americans visit public libraries and the average library member checks out 7.4 books per year Shibata (2011). The study showed CO2 emissions from print books only when produced where e-readers CO2 emissions increased with time spent and extending reading sessions, and showed faster reading from paper. The nature of the tasks determined which method was more ecofriendly with experiments pointing to paper.

Another study showed printed textbooks using approximately 9.0 pounds of CO2 versus e-textbooks using 7.8 pounds of CO2 over the lifecycle per student per course indicating the environmental impact of textbooks between the two methods not being of significant difference Morrison (2013). The study also indicated that variables of device used for e-books, number of pages printed, whether single sided or double, electric power source, and the number of times hard-copy books were resold were significant influences. The Green Press Initiative (2011) explains that consumer behavior will be a significant factor.

5. iPad Problems

In spite of e-books sales growing in international markets, technological changes causes devices to be obsolete within a few years. Apple is retiring the iPad2 after four years, Monroe (2014). Numerous technological changes cause more devices to be discarded each year and increases the environmental impact if they are not discarded appropriately. Other issues with iPads can include being heavier and bulkier, temptation to navigate the internet, and higher theft temptation, as well as breakage from accidental breaking. The sustainability of the iPad can also be decreased with print publishers gaining in sustainability efforts.

6. Conclusion

The iPad is a greener option depending on consumer usage in reading e-books, which is difficult to calculate, and manufacturer sustainable practices in reducing toxins. At this point, sustainability in materials and CO2e emissions has proven to be increasing with each upgrade, especially with frequent technological changes, which increases the emissions as well as materials usage. In order for the iPad to be a greener option, manufacturers would need to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions and toxins from materials. Consumer usage would need to contain a high amount of e-book reading, more than ten e-books a year, which is hard to calculate due to so many variables involved. How the e-books are purchased, new, used, rented, or shared will also influence the viability of the iPad as a greener option.


Are eReaders Really Green? 1 May 2012. article from http://www.themillions.com/2012/05/are-ereaders-really-green.html. 1 May 2014.

Book Buzz – e-reader vs. paper books. 2011. article retrieved from http://ecolibirs.net/bookbuzz.asp. 2 May 2014.

Environmental Impacts of E-Books. 2011. document from http://www.greenpressinitiative.org/ducuments/e_book%20summary.pdf. 3 May 2014.

E-readers, are they Green? 2 Oct 2012. article retrieved from http://www.edissue.. 3 May 2014.

Godelnik, Raz. How green is the book publishing industry? Review of a new report on the industry’s environmental impacts. 4 Apr 2008. article retrieved from http://ecolibris.blogspot..html. 4 May 2014.

— . How Green is the new iPad-part 1: comparing materials and production footprint to iPad2. 5 July 2012. article from http://ecolibris.blogspot..html#. 4 May 2014.

Hutsko, Joe. Are E-Readers Greener than Books? 31 Aug 2009. article from http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/08/31/are-e-books-greener-than-books/?_php=true&_types=blogs&_r=0. 1 May 2014.

Monroe, Juli. Apple is retiring iPad2 in favor of iPad4. 18 Mar 2014. article retrieved from http://www.teleread.com/apple/apple-is-retiring-iPad-2-in-favor-of-iPad-4/. 4 May 2014.

Morrison, Kent. The Carbon Footprint of Textbooks. 23 May 2013. article retrieved from http://mpe2013.org/2013/05/23/the-carbon-footprint-of-textbooks. 4 May 2014.

Morrone, Antastasia S., Gosney, John, & Engel, Sarah. “Empowering Students and Instructors: Reflections on the Effectiveness of iPads for Teaching and Learning.” Apr 2012. Educause. document from http://www.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ELIB1201.pdf. 1 May 2014.

Shibata, Hirohito. “Paper vs. Electronic Media: Work Efficiency and environmental Impact.” 2011. Imaging.org. article retrieved from http://www.imaging.org/ist/publications/reporter/…/articles/REP26_5_6_NIP27DF_1_SHIBATA_PG7.pdf. 1 May 2014.

Vihayaraghavan, Akhila. Amazon’s Kindle Reports Biggest Sales Ever, But How Green Is It? 9 Jan 2012. article from http://www.triplepundit.com/2012/01/amazons-kindle-reports-biggest-sales-green/. 1 May 2014.

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