“Each year, approximately 30 million trees are used to make books sold in the United States — 1,153 times the number of trees in New York City’s Central Park,” according to  the Green Press Initiative, a non-profit group that encourages the production of more environmentally-friendly books.

You probably have your own mini-forest in your backpack: a few hundred pages of statistics here, a thousand pages of biology there, then throw in a thousand more pages of Chaucer – you get the idea. With all the books we have to buy or rent, we consume a lot of paper. But the availability of new textbook technology raises this question: is there a more eco-friendly way to read for school?

One of the obvious solutions are textbooks for tablets like iPads, Kindles and Nooks. They provide convenience and portability, and a lighter substitute for a heavy backpack full of books.

Tablets also produce their own pollution. According to The New York Times, one e-reader requires the extraction of 33 pounds of minerals, 79 gallons of water, and 100 kilowatt hours of fossil fuels, which result in 66 pounds of carbon dioxide.
But is there a point, even with the negative environmental impact, where it makes more sense to purchase a tablet instead of a physical textbook? The Times concluded, “the adverse health impacts from making one e-reader are estimated to be 70 times greater than those from making a single book.”

The Times does not differentiate between a short acid-free paperback and a lengthy, glossy textbook, so it will take fewer than 70 textbooks to justify the purchase of a tablet. If you are a freshman or a sophomore, and you plan on downloading most of your textbooks on a tablet, purchasing a tablet may be more environmentally friendly than purchasing several textbooks.

The environmental costs don’t stop at the manufacturing of the tablet. Tablets need charging, and unless you have one of those cool solar chargers in your dorm room, chances are the energy is coming from a non-renewable energy source. You could also view a e-textbook on a laptop, but they consume electricity too.

Another solution is to rent a physical textbook through a site like Chegg, or even Amazon.com, but since you are buying the right to use the book for a semester, and not actually buying the title to the book, you can’t resell it. Like with the e-textbooks, whatever money you spend on a rental is gone forever once you hit the ‘rent’ button. But also similar to e-textbooks, rentals are cheaper. They might make sense in some cases, especially if you think the book is going to drastically decrease in value over the semester.

Rental services are good for the environment because they encourage sharing. Multiple students will read the same book, so students will demand less books, and hopefully publishers will print less of them. But textbook rentals don’t change the fact that the book had to be printed — perhaps with soy ink on recycled paper, which, too, has an environmental cost — and with the ever-changing world necessitating constant revisions, textbook rental companies have to buy replacements often.

Keep in mind some of the easiest and least costly solutions might not require renting a textbook or purchasing a tablet.

Have a friend in the same class? Why not buy or possibly rent a textbook and share it? Does the library have a copy?

Maybe study there. The library does not have every textbook, but if enough people ask for a certain title, they might carry it. And you might not have a friend in every class, but Fairfield is a small school, so chances are you do.

These suggestions might mitigate the environmental impacts of textbooks, but how ever you choose to study, you will probably negatively impact the environment in some way.

It seems the most eco-friendly way to read for class is to simply not purchase or rent any form of a textbook, and not read for class at all. But this alternative is certainly not “GPA-friendly.”

About The Author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.