I recently received a Kindle as a present—an amazing piece of technology, capable of holding, forever, tens of thousands of books.
I was initially dubious because I’m also Luddite-ish about reading. I like holding books, newspapers, and magazines. Yet I’m also cognizant of print media as a huge chunk of hard resources that I consume, and that our society consumes. That butts against how hard I try to reduce my carbon footprint.
Paper or plastic?
Does a Kindle decrease the impact on the environment? It’s made of plastic and electronic circuit boards, making it difficult to recycle or dispose of efficiently.
But using it means fewer trees lost in making traditional books, less pulp run-off into rivers and streams, and less gas used in transporting them from press to store—not to mention gas used traveling to and from the bookstore by the consumer. Yes, you plug it in to charge it (you can also charge it by connecting to a computer), and that uses some coal, hydro, gas, or nuclear (unless you have solar) but the battery life is excellent. You can go days between charges if you manage the power switch efficiently.
Kindling for the master
Some argue makers of these devices constantly market upgrades, so your new e-book reader is immediately obsolete. I’d say that’s true of the Nook—Barnes and Noble’s Kindle counterpart. The Nook is similar in look, feel (touch-screen), and expense to an iPad. The Kindle is low-tech and lower-priced in comparison.
You use buttons to “turn pages” on Kindle’s black and white screen, which is easier to read outdoors than other devices (but harder in low light). Its physical composition has changed very little, and you upgrade with software updates. Kindle will take back an old device and refurbish it. Mine will never be obsolete, and in 18 months I’ve been satisfied enough that I see no need for a newer model.
The upside to the downside
It’s true that you can’t donate e-books to a library or used book store, but Kindle lets you share e-books, using a computer or free Smartphone app. You can take a Kindle to many libraries and download a book, just like checking one out. Some libraries allow you to check out the Kindle itself.
Ultimately I think trees saved, pollution reduced, and gas not burned using a Kindle outweigh issues with the materials in the Kindle. I buy several hundred books yearly, and I’m up to about a 50/50 split between “real” book and Kindle purchases. The Kindle can hold 30,000 books! That’s a lot of trees and water impact versus one device and a few re-charges.
And, like craft beer and the local foods movement, perhaps more reliance on the Kindle and other e-readers will give rise to more craft presses, where a smaller number of books are produced but more workers are employed in localities. That’s good for business, jobs and the quality of a specialty book purchased more rarely.
It’s also worth remembering that a great many magazines and books, classic, coffee table, pulp and otherwise, remain in the world today and can be found in home libraries, public libraries, and for sale at thrift stores, yard sales and church rummages. These are a great way to reduce the impact of new hard copy purchases and reuse the ones that are already out there.
I’m going e-green
As for me, I plan to increase my Kindle e-book purchases in the future. But you don’t need an actual Kindle to purchase e-books. If you have a computer—and you do because you’re reading this—you can read e-books on it. Kindle has an app for that!
Give it a try.
–Maggie Duncan for Lindsay’s List