We all know printing books uses lots of paper, and reading might be revolutionized soon. As a book enthusiast, I would have rolled my eyes if you would have offered me an eBook reader a few years ago. Now, I’m practically drooling for one. But, are these forest-friendly gadgets as green as they sound?

E-waste

Electronic waste is a growing problem, as people obtain new gadgets and don’t properly dispose of the old ones. Sometimes even when we think we’re properly disposing of our electronics, they wind up dumped in other countries for people to dig through for valuable parts. (If you’re interested, watch this PBS video on digital dumping grounds; it’s quite disturbing.) As always, make sure you know how to safely recycle your electronics. Amazon’s Kindle has recycling options and so does Sony. But, according to this Environmental Science & Technology article from 2008, it’s difficult to know what happens once we recycle these electronic readers.

eBooksKindle-books

Since you can download eBooks wherever there is an Internet connection, you can receive books without transport and without carbon dioxide emissions. However, you will have to use some energy to download the eBook to your computer and your reading device.

Charging

Once a book is printed, distributed and purchased, the environmental damage is done. Now that the reader is in possession of the “dead tree” book, there’s no more energy or carbon emission exerted in reading. eBook readers are a different story. While the energy used to charge an eBook reader is minimal, it still requires electricity from a computer or wall charger to supply the battery with a charge. Learn how to properly recharge your batteries for optimum performance and lifespan.

Batteries

Both the Barnes & Noble nook and Amazon’s Kindle DX have rechargeable lithium polymer batteries. Lithium batteries are longer lasting, less toxic and less harmful on the environment than nickel-based batteries. When it comes to sustainability, batteries aren’t necessarily the safest, greenest option. What about solar power? Shouldn’t these companies be technologically savvy enough to whip out a solar panel for our eBook readers?

Solar future

LG has developed a solar strip for their eBook reader, LG Display, but for now five hours of sun exposure only yields one day of battery life. The solar strip, a lightweight solar cell, was introduced by LG in early October 2009. According to LG, the company is working to increase the solar strip’s energy conversion efficiency rate, with goals of 12% by 2010 and 14% by 2012. This means that it will be a while before these devices can run solely on solar power.

My prediction

In a few short years, the technology for eBook readers will improve greatly, as competition already seems high between Amazon’s Kindle and Kindle DX, Sony’s eBook readers and Barnes & Noble’s nook. With time and technological improvements, solar strips and more sustainable materials will be used to improve the eco-friendliness of eBook readers. The same article mentioned above compares electronic readers with printed books over each one’s lifespan. After much digging, the author found that eBooks are in fact a greener alternative, as the energy used for the entire life of “dead tree” books is on average 3,794 megajoules compared to an electronic reader’s 742 megajoules.

Got some e-waste? Don't forget to check out 1-800-RECYCLING for an electronics recycling drop-off center near you.