what’s better for the planet: ebooks or print books?

Posted on March 21st, 2013

I try not to got holier than thou with environmental footprint prescriptives. I try. (Although, when it comes to bottled water, I’m rather unforgiving.) Mostly I prefer to advocate making better choices. And mostly there is a better choice. And small, everyday, mindful things we can all do.

Image via We Heart It

Image via We Heart It

Problem is, there is so much misinformation out there. How about we spend today clearing a few up? Below is a mix of my own tips and some “dilemmas: sorted” courtesy of one of my favourite magazines, Green Lifestyle Magazine.

What’s better: dishwashers v hand washing?

Based on Green Lifestyle Mag’s research, dishwashers work out better. But here’s some tips for both:

  • Dishwashers come out on top – they use less water and are usually better on the electrical energy – when stacked properly and you do a full load.
  • If washing by hand, use two sinks – one full of hot, sudsy water for washing, and another for rinsing.
  • Clean a dishwasher filter regularly for increased efficiency, and, if you can, bypass the drying phase – simply open the door to let out air while the dishes are hot – you’ll be surprised how quickly they dry.
  • If you’re in the market for a new dishwasher, shop by the stars.

Tip I want to share: boil only as much water as you need in your kettle.

Kettles and jugs are one of the BIGGEST suck holes of energy in your kitchen. So many people fill the jug unnecessarily to make one cup of tea. Don’t be one of them!

What’s better: print books versus ebooks?

The e-book appears to be greener (when you weigh up the eco-cost of paper v the energy and tech infrastructure used to make an eReader), according to Green Lifestyle Mag‘s research. Here’s a few notes to help you if you’re new to the ebook world:

  • To reduce your reading impact, you need to actively use your eReader for as much reading as possible – newspaper, books etc. A Kindle could save you an average of 168kg of greenhouse gas emissions a year…if you’re not buying print books etc as well.
  • Ensure that your eReader uses E Ink – it’s the closest mimic to reading paper, is easier on the eyes and takes less power than an LCD screen so you save on battery; investigate greener ways to charge the battery; hold onto the unit for as long as possible; and ensure the device is recycled at the end of its life.
  • If you’re a paper addict, a library is the greenest option. Second-hand bookshops, markets and op-shops are second best. Or, try I Love Reading - an online book club that posts books to members. Read at your leisure and return in the pre-paid envelope provided.

Tip I want to share: don’t declutter, just buy less.

You can read about how I do this, and why it’s so free-ing here.

Tip I want to share: don’t buy a Prius, ride a bike.

I read a study that showed owning a fancy Prius instead of, say, a medium-sized normal car, ain’t that great.

Hybrids are still internal-combustion, petrol-powered cars. While they might use less of it than other vehicles (a hybrid car will emit 23.1 kilograms of carbon dioxide for every 161 kms driven, while a conventional car will emit 34 kgs), they still depend on fuel, and they still create emissions when they’re driven around.

The amount of emissions saved in one week by driving a pious hybrid can still be beaten by simply doing 1-2 less trips down the road and riding or walking instead.

What about coffee versus tea?

Green Lifestyle mag’s study on this one shows that tea trumps coffee in the energy stakes.

According to Dutch researchers, for a single cup of coffee, growing the beans, processing them and making the cuppa at home requires 140 litres of water. That’s fourteen buckets of water for just one coffee! This is eight times more water than what is needed to make a cup of tea. Might not turn you into a tea drinker… but thought I should let you know!

Tip I want to share: turn your fridge down.

Mostly we run our fridges unnecessarily cold.

What’s better: liquid versus bar soap?

This Green Lifestyle mag study highlights a couple of things:

  • in terms of ingredients that minimise harm to fragile aquatic ecosystems, there are more options for environmentally friendly bar soap than liquid soap.
  • Choose products formulated without palm oil to avoid harm to terrestrial ecosystems. The soap ingredients elaeis guineensis, sodium lauryl sulphate, cetyl alcohol, stearic acid, isopropyl and other palmitates, steareth-2, steareth-20 and fatty alcohol sulphates may be derived from palm oil.
  • Bar soap packaging has less of an impact than that for liquid soap. You can prolong the life of bar soap and prevent waste by keeping it on a draining tray.
  • Avoid [at all costs - Sarah] anti-bacterial soap – liquid or bar; studies suggest they bring no hygiene advantage, and cause environmental harm [and harm to your health; they're endocrine disruptors - Sarah].
  • If you buy liquid soap choose larger packs and refills to minimise packaging waste.
  • The greenest option is to make your own bar soap using sustainable ingredients.

Tip I want to share: fill your freezer.

Solids freeze at a higher temperature than air and so a full freeze freezer requires less energy to maintain it at a constant temperature.

Tip I want to share: use less washing powder.

I heard someone from CHOICE tell an audience once that one of the best things they can do for the environment is use half the amount of washing detergent than the manufacturer advises. Your clothes will wash just as well.

Got any tips to share? Feel free to add your thoughts below.

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  • Brooke

    Some really simple – easy to follow steps than can be done everyday – thanks Sarah.

    [Reply]

  • April

    thanks so much for all the tips – love your blog x

    [Reply]

  • Margie

    Brilliant post Sarah. Follow all of these in our house. Any toys required come almost always from op shops or toy library then are returned once grown out of.
    I actually borrow all my books from the library. I love your book, so put my name down (long list) at my local library and have it now for another 3 days! Have typed up my favourites and stored for use. Saves money and don’t end up with extra things in your house.

    [Reply]

    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah WilsonSarah Wilson Reply:

    I love that IQS is doing the library rounds!

    [Reply]

    Lee Reply:

    27 reservations at our library & climbing! Libraries also lend ebooks and eaudiobooks online.

    [Reply]

  • Kay

    Thank you for this post – I love reading tips!

    I completely agree about the antibacterial soap. My toddler puts everything in her mouth before I can stop her – shoes/keys/her fingers after touching the bin etc- so I don’t think antibacterial soap would make a huge difference. And when I think about it, she has actually had a lot less colds than my older two, who I was much more germ-conscious with (eg. washing hands, disinfecting everything, mopping regularly etc)

    I also think those antibacterial wipes are a huge waste. A lot of people I know use them in the kitchen as they think a sponge is really dirty and germ-infested. I use a sponge and every now and then tip boiling water over it to kill any bugs.

    And then there’s window wipes, stainless steel wipes, oven wipes, TV screen wipes….

    [Reply]

    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah WilsonSarah Wilson Reply:

    wipe the wipes!

    [Reply]

    Rachel Reply:

    Everytime I put the dishwasher on (full) I put the sponges and cloths in too!!!!!

    [Reply]

    Karen Reply:

    What a great idea!

    [Reply]

    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah WilsonSarah Wilson Reply:

    right on!

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  • Mia

    If you fill your fridge & freezer with bottles or jugs of water this also saves on costs. Frozen water takes very little energy to keep cold when compared to cooling the air.

    Bonus is that you have cold water whenever it gets hot.

    [Reply]

  • http://www.economiesofkale.net Economies of Kale

    I love the idea of buying less stuff instead of decluttering :) I haven’t bought any clothes this year, and am aiming to go the whole year without buying any (as well as getting rid of the ones I don’t wear). I am on a very tight budget until I finish my PhD so won’t be buying much of anything this year.

    I use soap nuts for washing my clothes, they’re natural and they work great. I bought a 1kg bag a year ago and still have about half left. Here is a post I did explaining them, if anyone is interested:

    http://www.economiesofkale.net/soap-nuts/

    [Reply]

    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah WilsonSarah Wilson Reply:

    Yes, do it. I did it for 13 months once.

    [Reply]

  • http://www.livehealthysimply.com jessica nazarali

    Writing a grocery list (and sticking to it!) helps me ensure I only buy the groceries I need and don’t end of wasting anything at the end of the week.

    [Reply]

  • http://lilapud.com/ Lilapud

    I have inherited hoarders genes!! Working on it! With age and contentment comes less of a desire to consume, another great thing about ageing!
    I use a beautiful, natural lavender soap bar, it’s heaven!

    [Reply]

  • http://www.sheconfessions.com Taryn

    We’re using goats milk soap at the moment, it is the first I’ve found without all the nasties. I’ve come across Arbonne in the last year or so which isn’t particularly cheap, but fully natural & gorgeous to use for personal products!

    I’m big on microfiber cloths & completely natural cleaning products (I use Nature Direct & am a distributor if anyone would like more information)… What I’ve loved is knowing we’re breathing less toxic fumes in our home & that it’s completely safe for me to clean around our kids! Big plus considering I’m a stay at home Mum… I do very little without kids around! My favourite product is Enviromist as it replaces disinfectants, etc. and means I have no need for that awful hand disinfectant gel that so many Mum’s have in their nappy bags!!! (What many Mum’s seem unaware of or choose to ignore is that little kids play with them & if they happen to consume even a small bottle of it, they will end up in emergency having their stomach pumped! Besides it dries your skin out terribly just promoting more money spending on super moisturising hand creams). Of course there are great DIY versions of natural cleaners available online as well, particularly great if cost is your biggest concern. But for me, convenience is great & with concentrate refills that are equivalent to supermarket prices I’ve no need to go beyond Nature Direct.

    Dishwashers may be better than hand washing, but the commonly used dishwasher tablets are toxic and should be avoided wherever possible! Bicarb & teatree oil is a good alternative, but if you are purchasing tablets/ powders at least get one of the greener options available – they’re less toxic at least!

    Also think about what you’re using in your garden! There are natural alternatives to toxic poisons that are commonly used! And if you grow your own food – make sure you test your soil for lead contamination – I recently learnt this is an issue, but can be dealt with if you’re aware of it.

    [Reply]

  • Sarah

    If I’m home all day I boil the kettle once and fill a themos. Stays hot enough for the day, especially for green and herbal tea.

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  • Sarah L

    I’ve actually been using soap nuts to do my laundry. Not sure where they land in “greenness,” but they certainly cut out some chemicals I’d rather not be wearing next to my skin!

    This is a great list – thanks for sharing!

    [Reply]

  • http://www.thekrookedspoon.wordpress.com cheryl

    My tip is front loader washing machine over top loader.Yes the cycle times are (sometimes) frustratingly long,

    but

    they use less water, are energy efficient, and your clothes will last twice as long, as they are a more gentle wash. (I used a top loader for 3 months at the end of last year, my tights and cardies bobbled, my singlets all ripped at the straps and I had to use laundry bags, a;; things that never happen with my front loader)

    [Reply]

    Cin Reply:

    Totally agree.

    My old top loader had 3 wash sizes… small, medium or large and I was always noticing small holes in things after being through the wash.

    My front loader is great, uses just enough water to clean my laundry and that’s all.

    Will never buy a top loader again!!

    [Reply]

  • http://www.venusianglow.com Eternal*Voyageur

    I think that e-books are greener only when it comes to read-and-toss books, not for classics that you want to keep, re-read and pass on to your kids or friends. Paper books can last a generation, but an e-book will last only till they come out with the newer technology, or till they delete it because of some legal issues or they decide that everyone needs to pay to upgrade their stuff (think playstation, where they made it that old games wouldn’t play on the newer PS models).

    [Reply]

    Josephine Reply:

    Agree totally when you consider land fill and also the mining used in production. You only have to observe land fill from all the other techno things people can’t seem to live without to rethink this one. We seem to be a generation that is greener than ever but adding to landfill more than any other previous generation. If they had one E Book reader that lasted forever perhaps then it might possibly be a greener choice but not when everyone wants the latest gadget and Amazon wants to ensure those updated models are out there.

    [Reply]

  • http://onefishtofish.com Deb

    Shop at bulk food places like your local food co-op – they often sell liquid soap sans harmful chemicals in bulk, reducing packaging to nothing.

    Buying in bulk (ie bringing your own containers) also means less food wastage and minimising packaging. Win win for earth and wallet!

    [Reply]

  • Clare

    Thanks Sarah, some interesting tips.

    I must say I find the whole bottled water debate a little confusing – surely the same criticisms would apply to single serve bottles of juice and soft drink and cartons of milk? I always try to take water from home but if I’m caught without I would rather buy a bottle of water than sugary soft drink! Tap water isn’t always available either depending where you are. For me the real issue is trying not to buy single serve bottles of drink, regardless of what is in them.

    [Reply]

  • Jim

    Great tips! The one about using less laundry detergent is true. After reading this article in the New York Times, I started using less detergent for my dishwater, too, and have found that it’s actually better for the machine and my dishes are cleaner.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/13/your-money/13shortcuts.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

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  • kaz

    Great post Sarah. Love your work. Its so great that you address a whole range of topics through your blog. Although, I do have to point out my recent disappointment in Green Mag’s article being meat-eating vs vegan/veg. Extremely bias. Liked your article though:)

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  • Jane

    I’ve been making soap for a few months now, and it’s amazing how easy it is and how satisfying to know you can control what goes in to it, not to mention the savings. I also make another soap which is ideal for laundry stain removal and use that to make my own washing powder. These things arent time consuming either as you only do it a couple of times a year, so about 4 hours max a year. I reckon it’s worth finding that sort of time to make your own supply of safe products. Seriously it’s something everyone should make the time to do. I can give links to some excellent websites for free recipes and how-to if anyone’s interested.

    [Reply]

    Leisha Reply:

    Hi Jane, I would be interested into the links please? Thanks.

    [Reply]

    Karen Reply:

    Yes me too Jane, thanks

    [Reply]

    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah WilsonSarah Wilson Reply:

    me too

  • joan l

    Bi-carb soda is a truly wonderful substance. I use it to clean the sink and stove in the kitchen and basins in the bathroom. It is also is great when you need to use a little elbow grease to get rid of dried crusty bits wherever! It is also a very good teeth cleaner instead of the sugary, fluoridey toothpaste. You have to get used to the taste – quite salty – so try not to swallow too much. As a mouthwash, I also avoid the commercial ones that are laden with sugar and alcohol. Instead I use a dilute solution of peroxide. Once again, you have to get used to the taste. My dentist recently praised me for the way I was taking care of my teeth…. I don’t tell her how I have been doing it, I don’t think she could cope!

    [Reply]

    Elle Reply:

    I used to work in the dental industry, and the dentists and hygienists I worked with told me that toothpaste wasn’t essential to maintaining a healthy mouth (the action of brushing your teeth does the job), and that mouthwash is in general a waste of money and not very good for you. The same results can be achieved by swishing water around your mouth – slightly salty water if you have some infections. Flossing on the other hand, is a necessity, as there is no other way to clean between your teeth. Not sure how to cut out dental floss!

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    carla Reply:

    I haven’t tried bi-carb yet, but I use a tiny amount of plain toothpaste… However, I switched to coconut oil about 6 month ago and for the last 3 months have been taking it off the spoon too. I went to the dentist a couple of weeks ago and she praised me for my dental hygiene. Said my teeth & gums were looking fantastic!!! Better get onto the bi-carb and really impress her LOL!!

    [Reply]

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  • Rachel

    you can clean your dishwasher with bicarb in where the powder goes and vinegar in the rinse aid area…….will be sparkling.

    [Reply]

  • carla

    I use the “Howards Storage World” foaming soap pumps in my house. I was buying organic liquid hand soaps, as my kids just couldn’t manage bar soaps, but buying one bottle every week or two = $$$$$! After the initial outlay of about $20 per foaming pump (one for the kitchen, one for the bathroom), we now only refill about once a month and there’s only a couple of tablespoons of soap required (the rest is water) for each refill. I love it. Saving heaps and it’s clean and tidy and the kids love it. My friend bought these for her child care centre – they have loads of them, but are saving heaps on buying ridiculous amounts of soap (can’t vouch for the quality of what goes in them though!)

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    Great and really complete post.
    Very useful your suggestions for ereaders. Currently I try to mix ereader use and used books. And I’m a great supporter of intelligent hand washing.

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    An old post of yours recommends Milk Wash by Moogoo…. Do you still use this or have you now converted to bar soap for the above reasons???

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  • http://sustainablesuburbia.net Kirsten Mcculloch

    Some great info there, thanks. i didn’t know that about freezers (have to go google it now :) – another tip re boiling water: if you drink a lot of tea/coffee, instead of boiling the kettle each time, keep a thermos on your bench and fill it with boiling water in the morning. If you have one anyway ;)

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  • http://sustainablesuburbia.net Kirsten Mcculloch

    Oh, and if you can just use your phone/laptop for your ereader (which I think you said you do somewhere else, and which is what i do – my phone, mostly), then it’s even greener i guess :)

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