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Sustainable dilemma: e-reader or book?

What is the most sustainable choice: an e-reader or a real, paper book? At ETIKL Magazine we checked it out for you.

If you are an avid reader and want to reduce your carbon footprint, you are faced with the following dilemma: is it best to choose an e-reader or a real book? We found out for you.

recently listed our favourite books on sustainability. But, since the paper industry is even more polluting than air travel, we have to ask ourselves whether we should stop promoting physical books. Is the e-reader the better alternative? Not an easy question, as it turns out.

A look at the background

In Belgium, about 90 per cent of all old paper and cardboard is recycled, in the Netherlands this is 85 per cent. Worldwide, the share of recycled paper and cardboard is 50 per cent, in Europe the average is 75 per cent. A cardboard box has a maximum of ten lives, whereas paper has seven. Why can't you keep recycling paper and cardboard? Because its composition, the wood fibres, changes with every recycling. When paper reaches its eighth life, it is made into cardboard, after which it can be recycled up to ten more times.

Do you sometimes get confused by all those different logos, certificates and emblems on the products you buy in the supermarket? So do we! That's why ETIKL often provides a word of explanation about these types of logos. Here you can read more about the '100% recycled paper' logo. Is buying paper still ecologically responsible? And should you choose an e-reader over a paper book? ETIKL Magazine found out for you.The majority of books you find in Belgium or the Netherlands are made of recycled paper. As a consumer, it is very difficult to double-check this. There is such a thing as the recycled-paper symbol, as shown here, but this is only one of the popular variants for which there is absolutely no official control. An official label is the paper/cardboard cycle logo, but this only says something about the possibility of recycling your book, nothing about the composition of the product you have in your hands.

Would you like an overview of which sustainability labels exist for the paper and cardboard sector? We gladly show you the way to the comparison table of Labelinfo (Belgium) or the overview of the Keurmerkenwijzer (Netherlands).

More than just paper

We have already looked at the main component of the classic book, which is paper, but there is more to the production of a book. There is the ink, which sometimes contains toxic substances, the glue that holds the pages together, the binding yarn, the packaging of your book, the production of printing plates used by printers, the energy consumed by all the different machines, and last but not least: the transport of your book to your living room.

The not so innocent e-reader

When you buy a printed book, there are a lot of factors that come into play when it comes to its sustainability. The production and use of an e-reader is also a complex issue. An e-reader contains many non-sustainable raw materials such as metals and minerals, including from mining. You consume electricity for every book you read and use a battery that often consists of harmful substances. An e-reader is also very difficult to recycle.

If you want to compare the two options thoroughly, as De Correspondent did, it turns out that an e-reader is more sustainable than the traditional book, but only above a certain reading volume. To be precise, this is about thirty books. So are you planning on reading more than thirty books for the rest of your life? Then buying an e-reader is a sustainable choice. In need of some new reading material right away? Discover our favourite sustainable readers here.