Before I moved to India, I had to get rid of a lot of my books. It just cost too much to ship them. But there were also some books I wanted to read in the coming months. Although I had never imagined I’d be one of those people with a Kindle or a Nook, I broke down and bought an e-reader. It seemed the ideal solution: I could carry many books on my Nook while travelling without worrying about how heavy my bag was. It also allowed me to read several books at once–a novel, a history book, a science book, some poetry.
Once I unpacked the books I decided to keep, I learned that in India there is something called a silverfish which crawls through your books and eats them. You can use naphthalene balls or even better, dried neem leaves. But it’s still a risk. So it made me feel that I had made the best decision. But then I started teaching again and I remembered one of the great things about owning actual books is that you can lend them to other people. This is especially important when there is no access to a library or when the libraries around you have only mass market, popular writings.
And then, of course, comes the issue of trash. One doesn’t need to think of books as trash, of course, because one can always give them away or sell them to a used book dealer (in Bangalore Blossom’s is the best!). There are always people in India ready to take books off your hands. And now a great new social networking/book sharing site has come up in India called Lenro where you can register your book sand see who has the books you want to read in your neighborhood. Kabadiwallas also have a system for recycling books. But when you have an electronic device, it becomes a bit more challenging.
Once you get locked into a e-reader, you’ll likely want to continue using it because it will have all your old books and books in progress on it. So that means you’ll probably purchase another. At the same time, if you like to read books that are off the beaten path or that are not sold in your country (in my case, India), then having an e-reader helps you because you can buy books and save money on the packing and shipping, which produces far too much waste, much of it plastic. There are also some great websites where you can download free books.
But when your e-reader dies, it becomes a piece of toxic e-waste like your phone, your computer and so many other devices. Nook recommends recycling, but only advises Americans as they do not sell their product abroad. Kindle gives you quite specific instructions about what to do in India, including advising you to seek out the help of Attero Bay, which promises to pick up your e-waste (although their site seems to suggest they only take phones) and pay you for it. Even better: they promise to plant trees for each phone they recycle! Imagine if producers of paper books did that every time they cut down trees for paper!
But still there is the question: which leaves a more negative effect on the planet? A 2009 study of e-readers by CleanTech reveals that e-readers may just have less of a carbon footprint than traditional books. This is especially true when it comes to textbooks, which are often updated and edited quite frequently and so a new edition gets published. But much of this study–which focuses entirely on Amazon’s Kindle–is based on conjecture as there are specifics about the technology used and its carbon footprint that the public is not privy to. You can also read a summary in The Guardian of this report.