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E-books, readers and tablets

News on a digital tablet


It's now possible to access books, magazines and newspapers online and download them to your smart phone, computer, tablet or electronic book (e-book) device. Purchasing and downloading reading material rather than travelling to shopping centres to purchase in a retail store can help reduce your transport-related costs and greenhouse gas emissions.

An e-book reader allows you to download and store hundreds of books on one compact, portable device. You can also have greater access to out-of-print, and public domain titles for free as well as independent material. E-book readers have added features including the ability to make electronic notes while you read. You're not limited to trading hours and can make purchases in private from any location.

Before investing in an e-reader it's worth doing some research online to consider if it's the greener option for your particular circumstances—as every product we buy has its own unique carbon footprint. For example:

  • Printed books require wood fibre which is harvested from forests; they use lots of water for pulping, are bleached with chemicals and printed with ink. They need to be shipped and delivered and release harmful methane gas if disposed of in landfill.
  • E-readers are made from plastic (derived from fossil fuel), metal, glass and other mineral resources. They need water to produce the batteries and circuit boards, consume energy when in use, and contribute to e-waste if not recycled.

When tossing up which way to go, some questions to ponder include:

  • Are you an avid reader who wants to reduce frequent car trips to the bookshop?
  • Do you read and dispose of lots of newspapers and magazines?
  • How many e-books do you think you might read in the lifetime of the device?
  • Will you continue to buy paper books and newspapers even though you have the reader?

Borrowing from the local library remains the most sustainable option of all. You can search your local library's online catalogue and reserve your books from the comfort of home.

Tablet computers are another mobile computing device on the market. Larger than a mobile phone and smaller than a conventional laptop, they are operated by a touch screen rather than a conventional keyboard. They offer a range of applications but generally have less functionality, power and connectivity than a laptop while priced in the same range. They are mainly used for leisure or work presentations on the run.

Given many tablet functions can be performed on your existing technology, such as a laptop or smart phone, it's worth considering carefully if you need to fork out for and maintain another electronic device. As with e-book readers, you can weigh up the resources used against your usage habits and requirements. Consider also any additional costs and resources in relation to accessories such as carry cases, headphones, power cords and protective covers.