Thankfully for the planet, we are entering an age of increased awareness about the impact human beings are having upon the environment. While it is true that some climate change skeptics linger – including, unfortunately but not surprisingly, Donald Trump – some very positive and meaningful steps have been taken in recent years to reduce our collective environmental impact.
A prominent example of this increased awareness is the 5p fee for a plastic carrier bag that has existed in England since October 2015. Last year saw the government propose a complete ban on single-use plastic straws, which have been phased out of many large food and drink chains, including Wetherspoons and Costa Coffee. This ban would also cover plastic cotton buds, which damage marine wildlife when they are flushed down the toilet and broken into small, digestible plastic particles.
The prohibition of these commonplace items from our day-to-day lives constitutes a meaningful step towards reducing the human impact on the planet. However, one ubiquitous product is brought into the conversation much more rarely: the humble book.
In 2018, book sales buoyed. A report found that the sale of physical books in the United Kingdom were up 5% from 2017. The sales of digital reading materials – often considered the more environmentally-friendly alternative to the paper book – were up just 3% in comparison.
More trees must be cut down, and more pollutants must enter the atmosphere during their production and transportation
However, whilst some may rejoice that the e-reader no longer seems to threaten the popularity of paper books, the results may not be good news for the environment. After all, if we are to enjoy more books, then the environment must suffer for it. More trees must be cut down, and more pollutants must enter the atmosphere during their production and transportation.
The reality for the average reader is that if you’re looking to reduce the environmental impact of your reading, then you should consider all your options based on your reading habits and preferences. Though e-readers have their benefits – namely their small size, their convenience, and their relatively low environmental impact – the truth of the matter is that the e-reader simply isn’t for everyone. For one, they can be expensive – it takes 30 books to pay off the environmental cost of your e-reader, so if you’re someone who reads slowly or less frequently, then perhaps paper books are for you.
For many, the reality of the negative environmental impact of traditional paper books can be tough to face. Lots of people still treasure the simple joy of visiting a bookshop, browsing the shelves, and choosing one that really grabs their interest. Leafing through the pages of your new favourite can be a lot more engaging than introducing yet another screen into your daily life. However, given the detrimental effect that books can have upon the planet, what is the next best option after the e-reader?
Whether you visit a charity shop, a second-hand bookshop, or even browse online, there is a huge range of second-hand books that you can buy
Firstly, buying second-hand books is a brilliant option. Whether you visit a charity shop, a second-hand bookshop, or even browse online, there is a huge range of second-hand books that you can buy at a fraction of the price of a brand-new book. The real benefit of buying second-hand, though, is that you can get your hands on a paperback whilst also ensuring that the environmental impact of your reading is kept to a minimum.
It is important to be mindful not only of the type of books you buy, but also of the way in which you get hold of them. For example, if you wanted a copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the planet would surely thank you if you refrained from buying a brand-new, mass-produced copy from Amazon with next-day delivery. Instead, why not browse the local charity shop, where you are bound to find a copy? You may even find a copy made of recycled paper. Even just visiting your local Waterstones or W.H. Smith would avoid the often-unnecessary environmental burden of next-day delivery, which often means delivery vans are sent out when they are not at full capacity.
There are many simple steps that you can take to reduce the environmental impact of your reading. E-readers are a simple option to vastly reduce your books’ carbon footprint. Even if you are put off purchasing an e-reader, though, it can be helpful simply to make informed choices about the source, materials, and methods used to get your paperback in your hand. In short, reading can be good for you without being bad for the planet.