“Paper or plastic?” is not a question you expect to apply to how you consume reading material. It is a question generally reserved for the grocery store – determining which material will best serve for carrying the bounty of dishwasher detergent and cereal from one place to another. However,with the mass availability of e-readers rivaling the printed word, like Amazon’s Kindle, the paper or plastic dichotomy moves into an entirely new realm. E-readers are marketed as “green”, but are e-readers really better for the environment? What is the right answer to “paper or plastic?”
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The Cleantech Group has also done some research of their own, concluding yet again that e-readers win when it comes to the "what gives off less carbon emissions" game.
And while the evidence is staggering here, I don't think this is something everyone will ever be on board with. Not because readers, like myself, who are attached to their physical, tangible books, don't care about the environment, but because books are more than just words strung together. The entire reading experience changes when reading off a screen rather than off a page that you can turn and touch and smell. The only reason I will personally ever purchase an e-reader is when I have so many submissions that it makes logical sense for me AND for the environment. Then I'm not carting around a 50-page or more print out of something I might only read 15 pages of before I cast it aside.
As you all know already, books are my life. I edit them for a living, read them for pleasure, attempt to write them. I, for one, cannot just let that go. Because what am I then left with? I know a lot of people who feel this way and it's not because we don't care. We are all for treating the environment with more care, conserving energy, and emitting less carbon and fewer greenhouse gases. But there is more philosophical issue at stake here. Giving up books for e-readers isn't as easy or as sensible for some as it is for others.
Besides, e-readers are not the answer to our environmental woes. There are bigger, more imminent areas that need our attention--vehicle exhaust and pollution for one. (Some may go so far as to argue that books cause more vehicle exhaust in the process, but please don't go there. Just like e-readers, consumers can purchase books online, and just like e-readers, the object must be delivered on one's door. Yes, you may have fewer purchases, but both methods of reading use resources-just different ones.) I'd much rather spend my time helping in other ways, walking, using mass-transit, recycling, turning my electronics off when I'm not using them, using ceramic and glass pans when cooking, etc. etc.
But books? Books are living, breathing things to a surprising number of people, myself obviously included. Books are part of who I am. They aren't just light bulbs you can switch out for something more energy efficient.