We've written about e-paper here and while the idea seems nifty, it's hard not to think that improving online readers might be the best option rather than adding another electronic gadget to the overladen waste stream. But in a new study from the Swedish Royal Institute of Technology, impact depends on number of readers and length of time a 'paper' gets read.
The researchers tried their best to set up an accurate comparison - what they called a 'screening' LCA (life-cycle analysis) between a printed newspaper, a web-based newspaper and an e-paper newspaper - using Sundsvall Tidning which ran an e-paper pilot employing the iRex ILiad tablet.The conclusion: in a conventional newspaper most of the impacts come before the paper is read - from manufacturing the paper, printing on it and distributing it. For the web-based paper, the most significant environmental impact was the PC's energy use, while for the e-paper it was production of the tablet. Surprisingly, though, reading a paper online on a PC for more than 30 minutes used more energy than production of the old-fashioned dead tree version, if that version had an average of 2.4 readers. OK, it starts to get a little confusing - stick to paper, read less than 30 minutes online or buy a new gadget? The researchers concluded (of course!) that more research was needed but that maintaining low energy use and providing good e-waste management was the best way to keep e-paper's future eco-effects to a minimum. Now we'll wait to see what the French have to say, as Les Echos is the first to offer an e-daily for just about $500 a year (gulp!) subscription cost.