e-Textbooks are Safer for the Environment and Save Students Money

February 27, 2018

Kayla Woodhouse

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Editor’s Note: Kaya Woodhouse is an English literature major and serves as a guest columnist for The Scribe’s Feb. 28 issue. Woodhouse’s opinions do not reflect that of UCCS or The Scribe’s Editorial Board.

    Imagine walking into an Apple store and placing a wad of cash on the counter. Let’s say you have enough cash to buy not one, not two, but three brand-new 32 gigabyte iPads, as well as cases and protective screen covers for each of them. That’s a lot of money, right?

    Well, listen to this: had I bought e-books instead of paperback books throughout the nine semesters I’ve spent so far at Pikes Peak Community College and UCCS, I could have done just that.

    My average cost of textbooks, as an English Literature major, has run between $600-$900 per semester. If I had purchased digital books instead of paperbacks, I could have saved approximately $1,000.

    Money wasn’t the only thing I burned through. In the paperback books I purchased, there were approximately 25,000 pages. Can you imagine how many pounds of paper or how many trees that is?

    Looking back, I wish someone had warned me when I was a freshman to stick with digital texts instead of paperback books.

    If only my college bookstores had emphasized e-books instead of paperback books, treating digital formats as the primary format, then I would have purchased e-books and saved so much money and paper.

    Can you imagine how much paper is wasted in the US every year? Let’s take a brief look.

    According to Debra Strong, author of Recycling in America, at least 2 billion books are published each year in the U.S.

    The process of producing books is extensive and expensive. Many resources are required to produce paper. For instance, Strong states that “the paper industry is the single largest user of fuel oil in the United States.” She also says that for each ton of paper produced, 60 pounds of pollutions are sent into the air.

    While there aren’t many statistics on how many college textbooks are published per year, I can estimate that the numbers are fairly high – hundreds of thousands. Consider the college subjects that primarily use textbooks: history, anthropology, physics, psychology, sociology, statistics, communication, geology, etc.

     The average textbook has between 100 – 300 pages. It is no secret that college textbooks quickly become obsolete as new and improved editions are released (or professor’s switch to a new book). New editions of textbooks usually come out every three to four years.

    While the number of pages of paper that one tree can produce varies based on the specie of tree, the kind of paper, and the manufacturing company, there are many good estimates out there as to how much paper one tree can produce.

    Most estimates land in the ballpark of 100 -1000 pounds, with thinner/cheaper paper, such as copy paper, being more producible per tree and thicker/nicer paper, such as magazine and textbook paper, being less producible per tree. Debra Strong pointed out that on average, one ton of paper destroys 17 trees.

    It’s important to note at this point: trees do not grow overnight. It takes five-seven years for a pine tree (commonly used to make paper) to grow big enough to even be ‘tree-like”.

    Let’s say for now that a single pine tree can produce approximately thirty 200-300 standard glossed-page textbooks (a median estimate cultivated from my research). That is enough books for one 30-student class at one university.

    What happens to these books after they become obsolete? Many will be recycled while many others will be thrown away, destined to sit in a landfill or be burned. In either case, the costs of recycling and waste management are high. We could easily avoid these costs and processes by changing the way we produce and sell textbooks.

    What if the UCCS Bookstore made e-books the primary format of books? Encouraging students to purchase e-books would definitely help save students money and limit the amount of waste and pollution used in paperback processing and recycling.

    Of course, there are always students who prefer paperbacks (I am one of these when it comes to literature books, though not textbooks). For this reason, the bookstore could leave students the option to order paperback books if they so desire.

    Also/or: what if UCCS implemented a system of awareness, such as including a lecture during the mandatory “welcome to UCCS” GPS course, so that incoming freshmen and transfer students will be made aware of the costs and benefits of changing from hardcopy book formats to digital book formats?

    I truly believe we should start emphasizing digital formats. By doing so, we could start a “digital-book” trend throughout the US to help save trees and students’ savings.