Of the reading light or book, the least polluting is …

The carbon footprint left by the production of a printed book has become an argument among those who defend the transition to digital devices. But on the other hand, the good old paper has the advantage of lasting longer and being able to pass between more hands. Who says true? The Rumor Detector and Unpointcinq, “the media of action on climate change”, cover four aspects of the problem.

Life cycles of paper and digital

In a 2012 research in the Journal of Industrial Ecology , a team from the University of Quebec in Chicoutimi deconstructed the life cycle of a book from logging by the pulp and paper industry to its Last moments in the recycling bin or at the dump. By determining the quantities of greenhouse gases emitted at each stage of production, the researchers calculated their carbon footprint.

According to their results, the production of a paperback manufactured in the United States or Canada generates 2.71 kg of CO 2 . “The different stages of a book’s life do not weigh in the same way: the majority of CO 2 emissions come from the manufacture of virgin or recycled pulp and paper,” says one of authors of the study, Claude Villeneuve, holder of the Chair in eco-consulting at the Université du Québec à Chicoutimi.

If books grow in trees, this is not the case with reading lights! Their manufacture, from the extraction of the raw material to the recycling of the parts totalizes, according to an evaluation of the Apple company, a carbon footprint of 120 to 160 kg of CO 2 for the iPad Pro, while a study of the American firm of consultants Cleantech published in 2009 measured about 170 kg of CO 2 for the Amazon Kindle.

It is therefore apparent from these figures that after four years of intensive use (average life of an iPad, according to Apple), the carbon footprint of a reader corresponds to that of 45 to 65 new books. In other words, for the e-reader to have a balance sheet similar to that of paper books, the owner would have to buy at least one book a month for four years.

The geographical factor

The carbon footprint of printed books may, however, vary according to geography. “Quebec’s pulp and paper mills are mainly supplied by hydroelectric power stations, whose footprint is low. In the United States, coal plants are much heavier, “notes Claude Villeneuve. The distance between the different stages of the life cycle of a book also plays: the passage through the warehouse of an online retailer can increase its mileage.

The paper book, “carbon tank”

Although researchers at the University of Chicoutimi have not gone that far, we can consider that between the digital book and the paper book, the latter has the advantage of becoming a carbon reservoir … as soon as it is install somewhere! “All the books that have been in my library for years store carbon instead of releasing it into the atmosphere,” says Claude Villeneuve. With my book collection, I’m stealing some of the greenhouse gases inherent in my books. ”

The public library, the secret boot of the book

The good old book still has a card in reserve. Almost half of Quebecers borrow their books from the library or their entourage. The books are not for single use, so it must be taken into account that several readers will share the same book. The carbon footprint of the paper book is therefore reduced, and the slope is even more difficult to climb for the reading light.

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