Around the world, reading is a favourite pastime for people of all ages. And in the past few years, the number of people picking up a book for fun has only increased due to lockdown. But what is the cost to the environment of all these books, and how can we ensure we are reading sustainably?
The Environmental Impact of Books
The most apparent connection between books and the environment is that they are made of paper. In the U.S. alone, book and newspaper production requires harvesting more than 100 million trees.
Thankfully, as sustainability becomes the norm, publishers increasingly commit themselves to use recycled or Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) paper. This ensures that the forests are being managed sustainably. However, the impact of books doesn’t end there.
To produce just one book consumes two kilowatt-hours of fossil fuels and emits around 7.5kg of carbon dioxide. There’s also water consumption to think about, with the newspaper and book publishing industries consuming 153 billion gallons each year. Then there’s the production of the ink for printing, which releases volatile organic compounds into the atmosphere, aggravating smog and asthma.
All of this is bad enough, but then the book will have to be transported to you (or the bookshop you buy it in). Of course, this can vary hugely but suffice to say, transportation by plane, train, car, ship, or automobile requires burning fossil fuels, so this climate impact is impossible to avoid.
Once the book eventually ends up in a landfill, its decomposition process will produce twice the climate change emissions as the manufacturing process.
None of this is sustainable, especially on its current scale. So, what is a better solution?
Reading Sustainably with E-Readers
An obvious solution to cutting down on the production of books is e-readers. Since their debut, sales of e-readers have skyrocketed, and they are projected to make up approximately 75% of the total market by 2025.
They’re not without their climate flaws, though. An e-reader’s manufacturing process consumes approximately 100 kilowatt-hours of fossil fuels (50 times more than a book) and produces more than 65 pounds of carbon dioxide (almost 100 times more than a book). The production also uses toxic chemicals, resulting in emissions that can worsen asthma and increase the risk of premature death.
On top of that, most consumer electronics are produced abroad, so your new e-reader probably had to be shipped across oceans and land to make its way into your hands, creating even more emissions.
Of course, with an e-reader, you are not limited in the number of books you can buy, so how much you use it counts. Different studies find different numbers, but a person would need to read around 40 or 50 books on their e-reader to negate the fossil fuel use, water use, and mineral consumption of its production.
The good news is most e-reader users read upward of 35 e-books a year. However, if they continue to buy print books and do not recycle the e-reader at the end of its life, then it’s definitely not the most sustainable solution.
Speaking of the end of its life, electronic waste is quickly becoming an enormous issue and is taking a toll on ecosystems.
If e-readers and print books have such a huge environmental impact, how is reading sustainably even possible?
Be The Climate Solution
Buy Your Books Second-Hand
The real secret to reading sustainably is to buy as few new books as possible. Instead, borrow them from libraries, share them with a friend, or even buy them second-hand.
A great place to do so is World of Books. Over the last two decades, they have grown from a start-up into a leading global seller of quality used books and pioneers in re-use and recycling. Their inventory now has over 7 million items, and they sell a book somewhere in the world every two seconds.
World of Books is a circular economy, for-profit business founded on the ethos of doing good, helping charities, and making a positive impact. They source all their electricity from 100% renewable sources, introduced electric bus services for staff, use warehouse vehicles powered by lithium-ion batteries, and have pledged to be carbon neutral by the end of this year.
In terms of impact, World of Books has recycled 61.7 million books so far (the equivalent of half a million trees) to be made into new products. On top of that, their charity collection and recycling service works with 400 charities across over 4,300 charity shops across the UK.
When you buy from them, you know that your reading habits aren’t negatively impacting the climate. In fact, they’re having a positive environmental and social impact. Check out World of Books here today.
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