With the falling price of e-readers and the rise of e-books in all forms, I’ve had a few conversations lately about whether or not law students would be carrying weighty federal regulations at this time next year or the year after. I get as much use out of my Kindle as I can in reading for pleasure, and I’ve started following news on a tablet this year. It’s a common turn-of-phrase to say “save a tree” when forgoing unnecessary use of paper, but are we actually saving anything?
Each extra device we carry around is another that is probably manufactured in East Asia from plastics that have to be made from petroleum, and increasing attention is being paid to the mining of the rare earth metals from regions like the Congo used in computing devices’ electrical components. Meanwhile, the paper business is inherently somewhat sustainable, whether or not they hold a conscious concern for the environment: paper farms, in the least, must replant and rotate their timber if they hope to be in business after too many years. Much of the south and southeast US have been growing pines for several generations now, and if newspapers continue sliding out of circulation while development in parts of the country booms, one would have to wonder how long the area will stay populated with trees.
Paper is heavy, so the production and delivery of each sheet we print on one time has a measurable carbon footprint, but then again, every week or two an e-reader needs a recharge consumes electricity, which is still mostly reliant on the consumption of fossil fuels. And then we tend to discard our devices after a few years for newer models, putting us into the e-waste phase of concern, and one blogger points out that the statutory categorization of tablets and e-readers in many jurisdictions is still questionable, even if municipalities were to be successful in getting their residents to return all e-waste properly.
Perhaps used books are, at the moment, the best way to minimize further consumption of resources.