Plastic Logic Previews New e-Reader, But Is It Better Than Paper?


Photo via Plastic Logic
Plastic Logic is previewing its e-reader and it looks pretty darn sweet. I for one seriously dig e-readers, but there is a nagging in the back of my mind about whether or not they're really better than printed materials, and it continues to grow at the same pace as the e-reader market.

A CNN news video on Plastic Logic's homepage (click through to watch the news video) boasts that the e-reader could cut down on the production of newspaper, therefore saving trees, saving on fuel and emissions from the transportation and delivery of all those newspapers, and saving the ink and emissions from printing them.

It is also geared towards businesses, helping to cut down on the significant amount of paper used for business purposes. Instead of printing everything, execs can carry a massive number of documents on the readers and can write on them, share them and store them all on one device. That right there saves a ton of trees.

All of that sounds like some excellent pros. But we also have to take a look at some of the cons. Read on for more analysis, and video from the CEO of Plastic Logic. Recyclability of Paper vs E-Readers
We know that e-paper devices are environmentally on par or better than printed materials and online reading, according to research done last year. But paper can be recycled or reused in a million different low-impact ways. What about e-readers? We don't know yet what their recyclability is, the percentage that will be properly recycled and the energy that would go into recycling them. Looking at current electronics recycling rates, my guess is it won't be very pretty.

Lifespan of Paper vs E-Readers
Paper doesn't have a terribly long life cycle unless it is cared for. But most people don't really worry about that - read it once and toss it is the usual standard. Or with books, read it once and hand it to someone else. With e-readers, the product would be used many more times than an issue of a newspaper, or possibly even a book. But since readers are so new, we don't have real numbers on how long they last, including Plastic Logic's reader which won't even be released until 2009.

Production of Paper vs E-Readers
We know that the production of paper takes a hefty toll on the environment - cutting down trees, processing them into paper, manufacturing ink, printing, transportation. It adds up fast. E-Readers eliminate all of these elements. Yet they also carry their own toll in emissions for manufacturing and distributing them. But do the numbers even out since consumers use the e-reader over and over with electronic documents, rather than purchasing printed materials or printing documents themselves? The technology is still too new to know for sure.

More analysis is definitely needed on how e-readers like Plastic Logic's stand up against printed materials. However, if careful thought is put into manufacturing processes and recyclability, it is likely that they'll end up having a much lighter footprint than printed materials. Plastic Logic opened the world's first plastic electronics manufacturing facility in Germany last month, though nothing green was emphasized in the press release, which is telling in this era of green electronics competition.

The technology is new and holds a lot of potential for convenient and eco-friendly reading, especially as it targets office documents as well as newspapers and books. But we'll have to watch closely to see if it solves environmental problems, or just shifts the problems to new areas.

CNN news report:

Demo from CEO of Plastic Logic:

More on E-Readers:
Exciting e-Paper News: Full-Color, Interactive News Papers and Magazines on the Way
Digital Newspapers Coming Soon- Does Anyone Care?
A New eReader on the Scene: Astak's EZ Reader

Tags: Electronics | Gadgets | Newspapers