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The Gap Year Blog

The Cost of a Story: the Environmental Impact of being a Book Lover

29 Oct 2019 17:10 PM

According to Worldometers, the current number of new book titles published this year alone stands at 2,197,713. Since books were able to be cheaply and quickly produced, our love of storytelling has meant that books have become the most prominent way to consume art, culture and knowledge. But does the average bibliophile pause to consider the environmental impacts of their beloved books?

The Obvious: 

The obvious issue with books is their unsustainable production. It is difficult to ascertain exactly how much paper a tree can yield, but it is estimated that a single pine makes roughly 161,000 A5 pieces of paper, with A5 being standard novel size. Authoress Meg Cabot claims that most adult books are around 90,000 words long, meaning that roughly one tree can make 487 books.

This may seem like a lot, but when you factor in the unusable parts of the tree and the deforestation necessary to create it, maybe it isn’t worth it – especially when books are unrecyclable, due to their glue binding. 40% of all industrial wood traded globally is used by the pulp and paper industry (WWF); one of the most energy-intensive industries. Research places the paper industry as the 6th biggest offender for industrial energy consumption in the UK.

The Not-So-Obvious: 

But, once the paper is pulped and printed, big problems come in the shape of travel miles. From printer to warehouse to bookstore, how long do these stories journey before they reach the avid bookworm? We’ve all contributed to this - we’ve all purchased books on Amazon or other websites, delivered direct to our door.

The Bright Side:

It’s not all doom and gloom. The digital age has crept upon us, offering us sustainable solutions. E-readers can store thousands of books, making them an efficient and paperless alternative. Or, if you suffer with poor eyesight, audiobooks are no longer confined to old cassette tapes and CDs: by simply using an app, you have the dulcet tones of Stephen Fry lulling you to sleep as he reads Harry Potter. So, it’s great news that audiobooks have captured the hearts of the British public, having surged by 43% this year alone.

However, whilst digital reading is perhaps an eco-friendly alternative to the old-school paperback, there is something about a physical book that we seem reluctant to relinquish. The publishing industry seems to be improving in response to its customers, with household names like Penguin Random House bounding ahead of their competitors on the path to sustainable publishing. They claim that 98% of their paper usage in 2017 was FSC approved – and they aim to be 100% sustainable by 2020. We have great expectations for the future of British publishing!

And Me?

No environmentally enlightened reader wants to find their literary carbon footprint lurking menacingly behind them. Here are a few small changes you can make today:

1) Switch to audiobooks (or E-books). It’s great for when you’re doing the cooking or out for a run.

2) Go to charity shops and car-boot sales. Buying second-hand books is cheap and a good way to recycle them.

3) Donate, don’t bin your books! Someone else will love them as much as you did.

4) Know your publishers. Opt for publishers who are FSC approved or who are trying to become more sustainable.

5) Grow some houseplants! Offset those travel miles by planting Basil or owning a nice Bonsai (because you had to buy that new Jojo Moyes).

6) Do a book swap. Find a fellow novel nutter and trade! You save money and you get the satisfaction of reading a book which is worth the tree it came from.

7) Only buy a book if you’re invested. Read the first few pages in the book shop; read a sample chapter; get it out of the library: if it’s a book you’ll love or read more than once, it’s worth investing in.

8) Go to your local library. From fiction to non-fiction to audiobooks, they offer a whole range of literature in a sustainable manner.

9) You may not be able to recycle your books, but you can upcycle them. You can use your books to decorate furniture, collage, and make gifts. There are crafting tutorials plastered across every corner of the internet – why not?

Being mindful about our consumption will ensure the evolution of the publishing industry, ensuring our enjoyment of literature for years to come.

By Genevieve Tomes - Online Journalism Intern

Frontier runs terrestrial & marine conservationcommunityteaching and adventure projects in over 50 countries - join us and explore the world!