|(sources: 1, 2)|
I doubt that.
I don't exactly know, what triggered it, but since a short while, I was thinking about whether digital was really better than paper. So I researched.
And today, I want to examine in detail, what is better for the enviroment: digital or on paper?
(my question is not about e.g. books vs kindle or newspaper vs digital newspaper, but about the paper, we use to write on (for note taking etc.)
So first of, we need to examine the steps in using each medium that may or may not cause enviromental damage. To represent digitality, I will take the laptop as an example.
As for paper this is the production of it, the transport, the usage (consuming pens as well) and the recycling process. For the laptops the steps are similar: production, transport, using it (using power and connections) and recycling.
paper: The first ingredient to start producing paper is wood. The basis for paper is for about one third of the paper whole trees and other plants that are planted for this purpose, for another third from wood chips and scraps from sawmills, that may or may not have been produced soley for paper. The last third comes from recycled paper. (source). Other ingredients that are used to make papers are bleachers, fillers, sizings and dyers, that are more or less toxic depending on the kind of paper.
To have a comparable factor, I will list, how many gallons of water each step takes. According to this website Producing one sheet of paper take 3 gallons of water. Likewise, this website claims that recycling one sheet of paper saves 3.5 gallons, so we will go with 3 gallons of water to produce a sheet of paper. This amount, however, may be influenced by using recycled paper from more responsible sources. When assumed that someone uses 6.000 sheets of paper a year for 7 years, this would be 126.000 gallons of water.
After the materials have been "gathered" and prepared to be processed, they have to be put together to form a laptop. This is most of the times made in China. As this graphic shows, the vast majority of laptops is actually put together there. And, let's be real, we all know, how the people there work in assembly lines. (more information).
Different assumptions state, that it takes 88- 7.300 gallons of water to make a computer (sources: 1, 2), what can also be proven by this list of how much gallons of water it takes to make certain materials for a computer like steel or plastic. So, I will go with an assumption of 4.000 gallons of water
If we consider also manufacturing the package and the accessories for the laptop we might be around 4.002 gallons of water to make a laptop. With this manufacturing process, however, we also have an issue since the materials exploited from the earth are partly not renewable and the way of production may be considered unmoral as well.
If we assume that it takes 1 gallon of water to transport our laptop, transporting the equivalent of paper would take 75.600 gallons of water. But again, these are average assumptions, that can be changed by the way, each medium is used.
paper: Using paper does not take up energy as such, but one needs pens to do so. Unfortunately, I did not found a single study on this value. Using this list of materials and this list of water for ingredients, I assumed that making the pens and materials needed for 7 years takes around 1.5 gallons of water.
laptop: Using a laptop, however, constantly consumes electricity, mostly powered by not renewable energies, like coal. This is often achieved by so- called mountaintop removal, where the coal- rich top of a mountain is broken down step by step. (more information) After all, the energy for powering a laptop comes from power plants, that consume a lot of energy itself.
In total, this makes (for a usage of 7 years):
(As said multiple times, this numbers are dependent on the way od usage and treatment.)
paper: 201.605,5 gallons of water
laptop: 98.583 gallons of water
The numbers speak for themselves: According to my calculations, it takes almost twice as much water to produce and power a laptop for the same amount of a paper used in that time. In contrast to paper, however, the laptop leads to actions not very moral, that involve humans and and can barely be measured in numbers. This may, however, be avoidable when searching for a computer from a more suistainable source and checking its recycling. Even with digital usage having "succeed" here, it is still important to save digital energy as well.
So will I now do and end this blogpost.
(other articles on this topic (that came to another conclusion): 1, 2, 3, 4)