Des40A Winter 2014
13 March 2014
The Amazon Kindle is an ingenious product. This is a product in our consumer society that boasts the consumer is intelligent for making this purchase. This purchase insinuates to the public that the consumer enjoys reading (sort of a rarer trait nowadays), yet they are aware of our diminishing environment, as well. The Kindle does not use any percentage of the 20 million trees a year we use on making books. But are the materials used to make the Kindle really environmentally friendly? Truthfully: we can not be 100% sure because Amazon won’t release any official statements about the materials or energy output of the product (1). Everything known about the Kindle is based off the consumer taking it apart. It’s safe to assume that the Kindle is not as environmentally friendly as Amazon claims it to be. Amazon probably would not exclude these facts from their product information in our eco-conscious society if they were not bad. That allows us to make an educated guess that the Kindle might really be on par with reading a paperback.
We have all picked up a paperback in our lives. Their materials needed are minimal. Making a paperback book only requires trees (for the paper), ink, and parts of animals or plants mixed with chemical compounds (for glue) to keep the book together - a fairly simple and straightforward method, although not the most environmentally friendly. The United States alone publishes about 3 million books a year (2). With 20 million trees a year being chopped down to make this happen, we are bound to run out of resources at some point. Our earth may be very large (we only know 14% of the species to whom this earth is home, 3), but it is also insanely small (think six degrees of separation). The Kindle makes sense to people who know the absolute basics about our environment. But the materials used to create a Kindle are not socially responsible materials and only one material is environmentally friendly.
Although there have been several generations of Kindle, they are still speculated to be made of generally the same basic components each time (sometimes things like 3G capabilities vary, or the design of plastic changes). The basic parts of a Kindle are: an electrophoretic display (an all-encompassing term for electronic paper and E-ink), flex circuit connectors, light plastic casing made by way of injection mold, wireless cards/WiFi chips, controller boards, and lithium polymer batteries (4).
The most notable component of the Kindle, and the one material in this product that is environmentally friendly, is the use of electrophoretic displays. This is a broad term to discuss Electronic Paper and E-ink. WiseGeek breaks down how electrophoretic displays work, and the materials it takes for them to work, the best:
In the most common implementation of an electrophoretic display, millions of tiny titanium dioxide (titania) particles, each about a micrometer (a thousandth of a millimeter) in diameter are suspended in a carrier solution of hydrocarbons and black dye. These titania particles are covered with charging agents to give them an electric charge.
After treatment of the particles, they are suspended in oil between two parallel conductive plates about 10 to 100 micrometers apart. The parallel conductive plates are connected to circuitry that allows external signals to manipulate the electric charge at different precise points on the display. By manipulating the charge, the particles either migrate to the surface of the display or rest near the back. This effect is called electrophoresis, after which the display is named.
While at the surface, the titania particles scatter light, appearing bright white. While near the back, the dye solution makes the pixel seem black. By manipulating charge over the entire display, an image can be created. Using color filters allows the display of the full visible spectrum (16).
The E-Ink Corporation states that they are a very environmentally friendly alternative to classic paper and ink. They claim, “If we could replace all paper newspapers with eNewspapers tomorrow, it would save 95 million trees that could remove 98 million tons of greenhouse gas each year" (6). With development of the technology over time, without a doubt, it will probably end up being at the forefront of materials being used in products like tablets. So while this may sound like a pretty good reason to invest in a Kindle, it’s eco-friendly marketing collapses on itself with the other materials being used.
Another material in the Amazon Kindle is a Flexible Circuit Connector. This is what keeps all of the electrical currants and circuits flowing in the device. It is nearly impossible to find what raw materials go into these. I assume they are frequently made of different materials (whatever’s cheapest) because unfortunately these are made in China. According to Forbes Magazine, “The US supplier base [for products such as FCC’s] have migrated to Asia.” They are easy to get at a wholesale price (half of retail cost). They are cheaper for us to manufacture in China, as well. The companies have more of the materials we need in stock, thus making the value of these materials not as high because they are not difficult to find. Also, labor in China is notoriously cheap. With a population that has recently surpassed India (over 1.3 billion people now living in China), it is estimated a good 100 million of their workers are underemployed. For a comparison, we have a 100 million people working FULL-TIME in the United States (5).
A material that is now used everywhere is plastic. Plastic is “a synthetic material made from a wide range of organic polymers such as polyethylene, PVC, nylon, etc., that can be molded into shape while soft and then set into a rigid or slightly elastic form" (7). Plastic makes up the majority of things we see and interact with on a daily basis. Coincidentally, plastic is made from another material we use on a regular basis: oil. Scientists take the oil’s chemical structure and break it down into something called monomers (a repeating sequence of carbon molecules) and combine it with other oil monomer sequences to produce an infinite number of different plastics. These chemical sequences don’t react very well with differing chemical sequences thus plastic is a tough material to break down (8). Because Amazon won’t tell us what the Kindle is made of, we are unsure what kind of plastic is used to make the Kindle. We do know, however, is that it is made via injection mold (4). Injection molds allow various materials to be inserted into a mold that is the shape of the object to be manufactured. This allows for a mass production of perfectly identical items. Although Amazon is secretive, they let us know that when we are done using our Kindle we can send it back to Amazon and they will properly dispose of it (9). The question is, however, how many people will actually do that?
Wireless technology is something every generation of Kindle has in common. They use WiFi chips (wireless cards) in order for the device to reach out across radio wavelengths and access the Internet instead of having to hook up to a device like the modem itself or a computer to gain network access. It is difficult, however, to find information about how these chips are made otherwise. Based on what we know about computer related materials, it’s safe to say some sort of chemical processes and heavy metals are involved. Forbes Magazine states that Amazon could not make their Kindle (affordably) without South Korea, where these chips are made (4). South Korea is actually becoming internationally recognized hub for technology. It has 97% of their population plugged-in, three television stations dedicated to eSports (gaming), and even has a sector of government dedicated to creating a more “creative economy” called the Ministry of Science. Their major link to the United States are hook-ups in San Francisco Bay Area, which is considered the place to go if you want a career in anything regarding technology. Even companies like Google are investing in South Korean companies. Because South Korea is becoming a technology leader, more cutting edge advancements are coming out of the country (10). It’s no surprise that Amazon, a corporation heavyweight, would follow in the footsteps of companies like Google and go somewhere technology is superior, and easily accessible thus making it cheaper to buy.
Controller Boards, also known as circuit boards, are one of the main components in electronics. They are the flat green boards with various bits and pieces of metal subtly sticking out like Braille patterns. These boards allow electricity to flow throughout the device. But they are also used for video cards and RAM.11 When being made, the company starts by cleaning the board surface, prepares the bases, uses an electroless copper plating method, prints patterns, electroplates, and then etches with ammonia the final pathways needed for electricity to travel (this makes the cool line patterns on the boards). In between stages they go through a multitude of chemical baths to help prevent any chemical reactions in the building process. Building these also require a massive amount of water. There are several environmental problems with building these controller boards: lots of contaminated fluids and waste chemicals are made, a lot of toxic metals are used in the process which is not good for anyone or anything, and a lot of bad chemicals being put into our air emissions. Circuit boards produce a lot of hazardous waste (12). These are not exactly eco-friendly.
The final non-eco-friendly product we find in the Kindle is the Lithium Ion Battery. On the plus side, these batteries are revolutionary because they are rechargeable. In the long run that will mean less frequent battery disposal. So the problem with these batteries is the chemical compounds within these batteries. Lithium Ion batteries are actually classified as hazardous material because they are made out of heavy metals. Two of its main ingredients are cobalt and lead (13). Cobalt flies a bit under the radar in terms of toxicity but the fact is cobalt is so dangerous for humans. If we ingest too much cobalt over time (either via inhaling fumes or digesting – surprisingly this is an ingredient in certain beers as a foam stabilizer), not only can it cause severe respiratory problems such as long hemorrhaging, but cardiovascular problems such as enlarged heart ventricles and extreme gastrointestinal effects (14). The other main ingredient in these batteries, lead, can reek havoc on the human body and basically shut down basic functions because it can find it’s way into the central nervous system (15). We are not ingesting a Kindle so these materials won’t be immediately harmful. They will become harmful though when they are improperly disposed of as these materials could cause huge environmental problems down the road if we don’t handle these materials responsibly.
The Kindle does have some eco-friendly promise with its revolutionary use of electrophoretic displays. However, it is difficult to ignore that the other materials being used to make this product available at an affordable price to the public are not environmentally or socially friendly whatsoever. It is awesome to have many technologies like the Kindle and other tablets literally at our fingertips, but there is an extreme price to pay. Not only are the raw materials inside the product a detriment to our earth and the people working with them now, they have the potential to cause environmental and health problems in the future.
1. Frankel, Carl. "Amazon Kindle: Reading Green?" Care2. Care2Inc, 8 May 2008. Web. <http://www.care2.com/greenliving/amazon-kindle-reading-green.html>.
2. Gallagher, BJ. "The Ten Awful Truths - and the Ten Wonderful Truths - About Book Publishing." The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 05 Apr. 2012. Web. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bj-gallagher/book-publishing_b_1394159.html>.
3. Bergen, Jennifer. "We Have Only Discovered 14 Percent of All Species on Earth | Geek-Cetera | Geek.com." Geekcom. N.p., 25 Aug. 2011. Web. <http://www.geek.com/geek-cetera/we-have-only-discovered-14-of-all-species-on-earth-1415995/>.
4. Denning, Steve. "Why Amazon Can't Make A Kindle In the USA." Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 17 Aug. 2011. Web. <http://www.forbes.com/sites/stevedenning/2011/08/17/why-amazon-cant-make-a-kindle-in-the-usa/>.
5. Nash-Hoff, Michele. "Viewpoint: Why Is China Cheaper?" IndustryWeek. N.p., 18 Aug. 2011. <http://www.industryweek.com/environment/viewpoint-why-china-cheaper>.
6. EInk. "Green." E Ink. N.p., n.d. Web. <http://www.eink.com/green.html>.
7. Google. "What Is Plastic Made of." Google Search. Google, n.d. Web. <https://www.google.com/search?q=what+is+plastic+made+of&oq=what+is+plastic&aqs=chrome.0.69i59j69i57j0l4.1760j0j7&sourceid=chrome&espv=210&es_sm=119&ie=UTF-8#q=what+is+plastic>.
8. Freudenrich, Ph.D. Craig. "How Plastics Work." HowStuffWorks. HowStuffWorks.com, 14 Dec. 2007. Web. <http://science.howstuffworks.com/plastic.htm>.
9. Ritch, Emma. "The Environmental Impact of Amazon's Kindle." TK Earth. Cleantech Group, 2009. Web. <http://www.tkearth.com/downloads/thoughts_ereaders.pdf>.
10. McGlade, Alan. "Why South Korea Will Be The Next Global Hub For Tech Startups."Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 06 Feb. 2014. Web. <http://www.forbes.com/sites/alanmcglade/2014/02/06/why-south-korea-will-be-the-next-global-hub-for-tech-startups/>.
11. Keen, Dan. "What Are Printed Circuit Boards Used For?" EHow. Demand Media, 18 May 2009. Web. <http://www.ehow.com/facts_5031475_printed-circuit-boards-used.html>.
12. Eco Smes. "Printed Circuit Board (PCB) Manufacture." Eco Smes - Printed Circuit Board (PCB) Manufacture. N.p., 19 Oct. 2004. Web. <http://www.ecosmes.net/cm/navContents?l=EN&navID=eee&subNavID=2&pagID=18&flag=1>.
13. Hsing Po Kang, Daniel, Mengjun Chen, and Oladele Ogunseitan. "Potential Environmental and Human Health Impacts of Rechargeable Lithium Batteries in Electronic Waste." Environmental Science & Technology. ACS Publications, 2013. Web. <http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es400614y>.
14. US EPA. "Cobalt Compounds." EPA. Environmental Protection Agency, 2000. Web. 13 Mar. 2014. <http://www.epa.gov/ttn/atw/hlthef/cobalt.html>.
15. US EPA. "Lead Compounds." EPA. Environmental Protection Agency, 2011. Web. <http://www.epa.gov/ttn/atw/hlthef/lead.html>.
16. Anissimov, Michael, and Bronwyn Harris. "What Is an Electrophoretic Display?"WiseGeek. Conjecture, Web.
March 13, 2014
The Embodied Energy of the Amazon Kindle
For our project, my group and I were given the task of describing in detail the design process of a common digital or electronic device of our choice. This project required us to research the raw materials that went into this production, the embodied energy of the device, and the wastes and emissions that resulted from the production of the device. After considering a number of devices, my group decided that the Amazon Kindle e-reader would be a relevant and interesting device to research. After choosing a topic, I was assigned the role of researching the embodied energy of the device. Embodied energy is the sum of all energy that was necessary to produce the good from beginning to end, including the production, the distribution, the disassembly, and the recycling of the device. It is the “cradle to the grave” life cycle of a product that covers even the impact of the harvesting or mining of materials that are used to make it. With the Kindle, this is a particularly relevant subject considering it is a device aimed towards helping the environment and being energy sustainable. Compared to the production and use of paper books and other reading materials the production of the Kindle is meant to sustain energy from its production and throughout its life cycle. After my research, I found some interesting facts regarding the device’s embodied energy. Studies have uncovered the possible impact that it could have regarding the environment, especially since it battles the world’s most polluting industry that is the publishing of paper reading material. As of 2008, it is shown that these paper industries have resulted in the harvesting of 125 million trees. About a quarter of American landfills consist of paper. Books have the highest per-unit carbon footprint when it comes to the publishing sector, however high sales numbers have continued this practice despite the presence of e-reader technology (which is comparably minuscule in the world of publishing).
With the Kindle being a product aimed at changing the way we read, it is crucial to consider the embodied energy of the device, since it is essentially the replacement cost of what it takes to make the product. If the Kindle aims to eradicate paper-reading materials, embodied energy is one of the more important factors to consider when contemplating the technology’s longevity. According to most sources, the production of the Kindle significantly surpasses the paper-alternative’s energy demands. Studies show that the carbon that is emitted throughout the lifecycle of a Kindle is fully counterbalanced after the first year of its use; all years after that create net carbon savings with an average of 168 kilograms of carbon dioxide per year. In addition to this there are also additional savings in toxic emissions from book publishing and water usage that have not been taken into account. These statistics multiplied by the millions of Kindles that are produced prove to result in a significant environmental impact when compared to the pollution that comes from publishing books, magazines, and newspapers. In today’s society, the emission of greenhouse gasses is a huge concern as the global warming continues to be a problem and it is largely due to these gasses that are a result of manufacturing plants. With this in mind, comparing the greenhouse emissions that come from the production of the Kindle to the emissions of the traditional production of paper reading material is very important. Studies show that e-readers that are sold from 2009 to 2012 roughly prevent the emission of 5.3 billion kilograms of greenhouse gases in the year 2012 alone (9.9 billion kilograms in these four years combined). If these devices were to reach their entire capacity, they could prevent emission of about 1.6 trillion kilograms of carbon dioxide. This is equivalent to 19 days’ worth of global emissions. In the newspaper industry alone, a single newspaper subscription demands 67 times the amount of water and 140 times the amount of carbon dioxide that the Kindle alternative demands. The production of paper books requires 78 times the water that the publication of an e-book requires.
Energy is not only saved in the production of the Kindle, it is also saved in the packaging of it. The device is packaged in a minimalistic fashion with a compact recyclable box and no plastic included. This not only cuts down on costs and energy use for packaging but it also reduces waste by using all recyclable materials and cuts on transportation costs by being able to ship more units at once. With this considered, the fact that it is manufactured and assembled in China means long-distance transportation is necessary if you’re an American wanting to own one. While this does mean the use of more energy, if the device is used to its full potential the energy saved through bypassing the production of paper books is meant to outweigh the negatives. In addition to the packaging, another sustainable quality of the Kindle is its long lasting battery. Compared to reading off of tablets and smartphones with battery lives of about five to ten hours, the Kindle’s battery lasts a whopping eight weeks on a single charge. This means the device consumes low amounts of energy and requires less time plugged into an outlet.
One interesting psychological factor that contributes to its environmental benefits is that people who read on e-readers tend to read more books than others. According to a study that consisted of surveying about 3,000 Americans, those who used e-readers read an average of twenty-four books in the year 2012, while those who read paper books read fifteen books. This information implies that e-books prevented the production of 27,000 paper books just among these 3,000 people alone. Also, of the people surveyed 30% of those with e-readers claimed that they spend more time reading than they did before. This has obvious benefits towards stimulating individuals’ brain activity as well as for the environment as a whole.
After doing the research for this project, I have learned a lot about what goes into the production of the Kindle. However, I was unable to find more specific information due to the fact that Amazon is notoriously secretive with their business practices and refuse to release certain information regarding what goes into the device. This could be problematic as this means toxic chemicals may be included in the device, contradicting the positive impact it is supposed to have on the environment. However, with all things considered it is clear that the production of the device has far less of a negative impact on the environment and is much more energy sustainable than the production of traditional reading material. If the Kindle becomes more popular among consumers, there could be significant benefits for the environment we live in. However, a problem with this is that the use of paper reading materials is so common in today’s society that the eradication of it will take time and a big change in the practices of consumers. While newspapers and magazines have largely been replaced by digital alternatives in the past decade, the conversion from books to e-books has been less significant. The Kindle has been available to consumers since 2007, and several other e-readers have been released as alternatives to the popular Amazon product. Since then, the use of the technology has been increased fairly significantly. One study done by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project shows that the percentage of people who read e-books rose from 6% in 2010 to 33% in 2012. While not all of these e-book owners had a Kindle specifically, the significant increase in usage of the e-book format indicates that the technology has become much more relevant.
After doing this project I have learned a lot about what is required in the production of a device such as the Kindle, especially about the energy that is required. The research that I have found indicates the device has clear positive impacts on the environment and could continue to have these impacts in the future as more people convert to the technology. However, in order for the Kindle’s environmental impact to reach its full potential, there is a need for a change in cultural practices and ideals. The “green movement” must be supported by the entire society rather than just a fraction of it, and there must be more consideration of what it takes to produce paper products that we use almost every day in today’s society. As an owner of a Kindle, I have personally seen how it has effected my consumption of reading material. After looking at the shelves of books that I have owned in the past, browsing through my Kindle library makes it clear how the device has changed my reading habits. I have about twenty-five e-books that would’ve otherwise been in paper format and resulted in a significant increase in energy use for their production. This shows me that this alternative technology could have a huge impact with the participation of the masses. The embodied energy in addition to other benefits of the Kindle prove to be significant in the protection of the environment that we live in.
De Morsella, Chris. "Embodied Energy, a Measure of Sustainability." The Green Economy Post: Green Careers, Green Business, Sustainability. N.p., 2010. Web. 13 Mar. 2014.
This article provides a background of embodied energy and what it exactly entails.
Hutsko, Joe. "Are E-Readers Greener Than Books?." New York Times 31 Aug 2009, n. pag. Web. 10 Feb. 2014. <http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/08/31/are-e-readers-greener-than-books/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0>.
Directly compares the environmental impact of E-Reader technology to that of books and describes with the benefits of such technology in terms of improving sustainability and the environmental impact of the publishing industry.
Marati, Jessica. "Investigating The Sustainability Of The Amazon Kindle." EcoSalon. TotallyHer, 8 May 2013. Web. 11 Feb. 2014. <http://ecosalon.com/behind-the-label-amazon-kindle-sustainability/>.
Organizes the argument about the Kindle in a way that is people friendly as opposed to scientifically organized. Separates facts into “The Good” “The Bad” and “The Questionable.” A nice way of breaking things down.
Pan, Joann. "Mashable." Mashable. N.p., 27 Dec. 2012. Web. 13 Mar. 2014.
This article shows how the technology of the e-reader has advanced over the past several years and is proving to become a legitimate alternative to paper reading materials.
Rainie, Lee, Kathryn Zickuhr, Kristen Purcell, Mary Madden, and Joanna Brenner.Libraries.pewinternet.org. Rep. N.p., 4 Apr. 2012. Web.
This report provides statistical evidence of have Americans have adapted to e-reading. It indicates that the reading alternative has become more and more popular over the years.
Ritch, Emma. "The Environmental Impact of Amazon's Kindle." Cleantech Group, 2009. Web. <http://www.tkearth.com/downloads/thoughts_ereaders.pdf>.
This was a helpful PDF file because it statistically breaks down critical bits of information about the product. It is also a brief that is referenced by other multiple websites which automatically adds credibility to this report.
Timothy Tabuchi (998113177)
Professor Christina Cogdell
DES40A, Winter 2014
12 March 2014
Kindle Waste and Emissions
In the Age of Information, the average American has access to an entire database of documents, magazines, newspapers, and books. These publications have almost always been manufactured in paper and can be traceable back to the Chinese in 200 BC. However, just recently we are beginning to see this traditional use of paper be replaced with an LED screen and the use of ink be replaced with what is known as e-ink. With the introduction of the Sony Librie in 2004, the world’s first e-book reader, or e-reader for short, consumers now have the option to receive publications digitally. Since this there have been many improvements to the e-reader, the most popular make and model being the Amazon Kindle. The Amazon Kindle is a series of e-readers designed and marketed by Amazon.com that allows its users to purchase any book, magazine, or news article from its online database and readily read it on a portable computerized tablet. The Kindle’s main marketing lure is that it is environmentally friendly because it displaces the purchasing of books, assuming they would have been read by those who make the switch. The big question has always been: Is the Kindle really greener than continuing to purchase physical books? Often overlooked by the consumer, there is a whole lifecycle of waste and emissions that the Kindle is associated with that should lead one to question whether the environmental costs of owning an e-reader do justice to its purpose by actually producing less emissions than the amount they boast to prevent caused by books.
The influence of Amazon’s Kindle is unlike that of the e-readers that came before it mainly because of the broad background of its company that allowed it to instantly be introduced along with endless amounts of downloadable content. Little do people know, but Amazon was founded in 1994 by Jeffrey P. Bezos with the intent of providing books nationwide through online orders. Bezos realized that there are too many books in this world to sell at any single bookstore and knew that he could sell large amounts if he sold them at cheaper than retail price (Packer, 3). This business strategy led his company to nearly dominate today’s book market and become sort of like a mega-library accessible to anyone with an address and internet connection. In 2008 alone, Amazon sold more physical books than all American bookstores combined (Packer, 9). By 2010 Amazon “controlled ninety percent of the market in digital books” (Packer, 11). Today Amazon is also a hardware manufacturer, utility, video distributor, book publisher, production studio, literary magazine, grocery deliverer, and may someday have its own package delivery service [Packer 1]. In addition to these, Amazon’s founder and chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos just recently made a $250 million purchase for the publishing rights to The Washington Post, the nation’s most widely circulated newspaper located in Washington D.C. (Farhi, 1). The vast amount of content availability provided by Amazon to its Kindle customers is influential to the number of books it displaces each year and thus should not be considered negligible when discussing the range in wastes and emissions resulting from the product.
Over 90% of the waste and emissions involved with the Kindle are expelled during the material extraction and manufacturing stage of its life. One single e-reader requires 33 pounds of mineral extraction including the extraction of small amounts of exotic metals used in its circuits (Goleman, 1). One material, columbite-tantalite, is found in the Congo. When refined it becomes metallic tantalum which is a heat resistant powder capable of holding a high electrical charge [Delawala 1]. This is used in creating the capacitors responsible for storing energy inside the Kindle. The consequences associated with mining such a metal include the deforestation of many of Central Africa’s national parks and wildlife in combination with the previously occurring displacement and killing of the natural wildlife by the rebels occupying the war-torn regions. The nonprofit Green Press Initiative (GPI) calculated that books and newspapers produce 153 billions of gallons of wastewater per year (Ritch, 3). A study done by Cleantech Group, a San Francisco based company that studies Fortune 1000 corporations to aid in the acceleration of sustainable innovation, found that the production of physical books and newspapers requires “78 times the water needed in the production of e-books” (Ritch, 6). After calculations, that is only 1.96 billion gallons of annual wastewater by the Kindle. Researchers estimate that it takes 79 gallons to make a single e-reader. An analysis in which the Cleantech report is based off calculates the total emissions per unit due to the extraction and manufacturing of materials to be 290 kg CO2 (Regnier, 2).
The wastes and emissions caused by the distribution and transportation of the Kindle is directly dependent on the location of its manufacturers. The Kindle can be broken down into four main components: (1) the glass display, (2) the wireless broadband data module, (3) the microprocessor chip, and (4) the lithium-polmer battery. The glass display is made in Asia because, like many other technologies, “the capabilities needed to make glass with silicon in it moved to Asia” (Rappaport, 1). In addition to the silicon there are ink beads involved in the production of the display that are made by E Ink Corporation far away in Cambridge, Massachusetts (Rassweiler, 1). The wireless broadband data module is produced in Korea but is provided by Novatel Wireless Inc, a company specialized in communication equipment headquartered in San Diego, California (Rassweiler, 2). The MSM6801A single-chip baseband microprocessor provided by Qualcomm Inc. (also headed in San Diego, CA) and lithium-polmer battery are also made in Asia. Once individually manufactured, each component must be transported to the Kindle’s primary manufacturer, Quanta Computer Incorporated in China, where everything is finally assembled and installed. One may tend to think it requires more waste and emissions to manufacture a Kindle overseas then ship it to the United States but in fact the opposite is true due to the fact that the production of many of the individual components involved are also located throughout Asia, the majority being concentrated in China. The effect of distribution and manufacturing on a Kindle’s total CO2 output is a fraction of the 290 kg CO2 due to extraction and manufacturing (stated in the paragraph above); using 100 kilowatt hours of fossil fuels results in 66 pounds or roughly 30 kg CO2 emitted (Goleman, 2). The delivery alone, assuming domestic shipping within the continental United States from the retail warehouse to the buyer’s door, is only 3.4 kg CO2 [Regnier 2].
How much CO2 is emitted by the consumer? The CO2 emission from using a Kindle is a combination of its power consumption through time charging (roughly 30 min, 3 days a week) and necessary wattage (40 W). Simply stated, the longer one reads a Kindle, the greater the emissions are due to electricity use. Assuming the average lifetime to be 8 years, this equates to an emission of 35 kg CO2 due to use (Regnier, 3). As a percentage of the entire carbon emitted by an e-reader, waste by reading and normal use makes up only 8%.
In terms of the proper disposal of a Kindle, Amazon’s certified recycler, Li Tong Group, manages the “Amazon Take Back Program” [Hooper 1]. This is a free of charge service in which the customer sends his/her Kindle product and batteries through UPS to a warehouse address in located Grand Prairie, TX. When prompted to describe what happens after this, Li Tong Group only makes the following statements: “the unit will undergo Secure Data Destruction,” “the battery will be removed…for proper recycling,” and “the remainder…will be shredded and processed for commodities material recoveries” [Li Tong]. If not disposed of properly, a Kindle has the risk of emitting a large range of toxic substances. E-readers usually contain substances such as arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, halogenated flame retardants, lead, and mercury (Dean, 3). If improperly disposed of, the Kindle’s chemical components will most likely lay out in the open in landfills or be “recycled” illegally by workers in developing countries. Some of the non-renewable resources required to make a Kindle, such as the columbite-tantalite, mercury, and lithium, are being wasted and destroyed because they are improperly disposed. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) claims that “electronic waste is growing 2-3 times faster than any other waste stream” (Dean, 1). One of the main reasons being is because people just dispose of their old system once a newer-improved model is released. An electronic device such as a Kindle should be properly incinerated with advanced emissions controls in order to maximize metal recovery.
A Kindle can hold a countless number of books causing the owner to purchase fewer printed publications in the future. The debate over which is greener – a book or Kindle – is one that is not measurable solely by the amounts of CO2 emitted. Because the Kindle has a highly-energy efficient screen, it enables its user to read in the day as well as in the dark at night. An important key to note is that while physical books don’t necessarily require energy to read during the day, they do require a light bulb to read at night. The standard light bulb today uses 60 W, a value greater than the necessary wattage a Kindle requires for a single charge. Still, the health impacts from making one e-reader "are estimated to be 70 times greater than those from making a single book" (Goleman, 2). The arguments in favor of the “greener” Kindle are backed by the claims that its emissions are “offset by its manufacture in one year” (Siegle, 1). The study by Cleantech suggests e-readers to be a major method of “improving the sustainability and environmental impact on the publishing industry” (Hutsko, 1). Using an average of 167.78 kg of CO2 emitted by a Kindle and an average of 7.46 kg CO2 emitted by the average book over its entire lifetime the average displacement of books by the Kindle is calculated to be 22.5 (Rainey, 1; Ritch, 6). This means that there is no net environmental impact during the first year of Kindle use. Every subsequent year however we see an increase in the Kg of CO2 prevented due to the increase in e-reader sales each year. More importantly we see the difference increase between the Kg of CO2 cause by e-readers and the Kg of CO2 prevented by e-readers suggesting a positive environmental impact.
The information necessary to complete a full report of the wastes and emissions produced as a result of e-reader technology is unavailable at both the macro and micro level. The main issue encountered when researching the carbon footprint of a single Kindle is the lack of information provided by Amazon regarding the materials, manufacturing, and disposal of their product. There have been reports that “Amazon [has] declined to provide” this information. While Amazon publicly promotes the use of its Kindle “Take Back Program,” it hardly provides any data concerning the details of its disposal and recycling program. As a result, many of the figures and calculations that attempt to explain CO2 emissions may not be accurate to the Kindle but may still be accurate to other manufacturer’s designs of e-readers. A second issue is in the number of e-books the average user is reading. This number, used to relate the number of physical books to e-readers purchased per year, assumes the average consumer purchases 3 e-books a month (Godelnik, 4). The problem with this is it assumes a user who switches to the Kindle will continue to read the same number of books annually as e-books. This estimate also states the “average will drop when lower e-reader prices entice casual readers” (Ritch, 5).
While much of the debate between the Kindle and the common book are abstract arguments, there are a few points that both advocates in favor of e-readers and advocates in support of the continued use of paper books must undeniably agree on. The first of which is that the eReader will continue to be read by individuals regardless of any environmental considerations. The second is that paper based reading will “continue to meet a significant proportion of reading needs” (Rainey, 3). The third states that with an increase in the number of eBooks on a reader there is a correlated potential offset with respect to paper books. The last agreement states that sharing paper books as the number one lowest long term environmental solution (Rainey, 3). Each of these assumptions is unbiased and claims there to be an impact by the Kindle but does not attempt to decipher whether it is positive or negative.
Not knowing some of the specific technical details regarding the design of Amazon’s Kindle may make calculating the exact waste and emissions difficult but it is important to remember that this report focuses on the e-reader aspect of the device. While some data seems to suggest that Amazon’s Kindle may in fact be a greener, more environmental alternative to books and newspapers, one cannot simply compare the two because of the circumstances under which each has been measured. When compared to what it replaces in terms of the materials and depletion of resources by books the Kindle always wins. But, electronic devices always have their share of environmental costs too. Till Amazon releases official information about the materials and manufacturing of their product, the precise environmental cost due to wastes and emissions of a Kindle are only a reflection of its competitors’ products. These numbers cannot be specific to the Kindle because it fails to factor in the complete dominance Amazon has over its available public content that may influence its consumer’s decisions. While this report makes it evident that the Kindle and other e-readers are in fact becoming greener, it is still too early to crown the Kindle the title of the better alternative for the environment.
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