Reading the news on e-paper saves the environment

Published Nov 27, 2007

Reading the newspaper 30 minutes a day on e-paper instead of a regular newspaper is environmentally preferable. If you read a Web-based newspaper instead, you can only read for ten minutes to produce the same load on the environment. This has been calculated in a study at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden.

The study was carried out at the newly launched Center for Sustainable Communications at the Royal Institute of Technology, in collaboration with STFI-Packforsk. It investigated the environmental impact of various ways of reading the daily paper. The findings show that a half hour of reading an Internet newspaper per day has about the same environmental effect as reading a paper newspaper.

“If you read the newspaper for 30 minutes each day on e-paper instead, the load will be lower. Reading it on the Web for 10 minutes yields the same load. The alternatives are not entirely comparable¬you obviously get more out of reading for 30 minutes than 10. Of course, reading the paper version is not really comparable to reading electronically,” says Åsa Moberg, one of the researchers behind the report.

e-paper has a resolution of 170 dots per inch, which is twice as high as what we are used to from computer screens, offering sharpness close to that of a newspaper. It can also be read in bright light and doesn’t flutter the way a computer screen does. Some prototypes are thin and can even be rolled up, just like a traditional newspaper.

Using so-called simplified live-cycle assessment (LCA), the researchers studied the resource use and environmental impact from the entire life cycle of the various alternatives: editorial work, paper production and printing, production of computers and e-paper respectively, reading the newspaper, and waste management of the paper and electronics.

The greatest burden on the environment for the paper version is the production of the paper. For the Web-based version what harms the environment is primarily the use of energy in order to read the paper on the Net, while with the e-paper version it’s the production of the terminal.

“The environmental load and differences in environmental performance for the products change depending on whether you place it in a Swedish or a European perspective, primarily owing to different means of generating electricity. The products’ contribution to different sorts of environmental impact differs as well, but in general the paper and Internet newspapers with a longer reading time burden the environment more than e-paper and the Internet version with a shorter reading time,” says Åsa Moberg.

Other factors that affect the environmental load are how many people read a specific copy of a newspaper and the length of life for a computer, a screen, and e-paper. Whether the equipment is used by one or several people and whether it is used for purposes other than newspaper reading are also factors to be considered.

e-paper is still under development, and more detailed studies of production, substances used, and waste management need to be done to steer this product development in the right direction, according to Åsa Moberg.

“The study shows that e-paper has potential from an environmental point of view if readers and newspaper companies are interested. However, we still don’t know how it will be dealt with as waste, and the data for the chemicals involved are uncertain,” she adds.

The study “Screening environmental life cycle assessment of printed, Web-based, and tablet e-paper newspapers” was carried out by Åsa Moberg, Section for Strategic Environmental Analysis at the Royal Institute of Technology and STFI-Packforsk, Martin Johansson, STFI-Packforsk, Göran Finneveden, Section for Strategic Environmental Analysis at the Royal Institute of Technology, and Alex Jonsson, Section for Media Technology and Graphic Production at the Royal Institute of Technology.

The report and its appendices can be downloaded from:

www.csc.kth.se/sustain/publications/reports/

Contact Åsa Moberg, phone: +46 (0)8-790 7395, asa.moberg@infra.kth.se

Reference link:

www.csc.kth.se/sustain

Magnus Myrén

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