As of 10:07 am on Tuesday, April 4th 2017, the world had already produced 143,779,224 tons of paper since New Year’s Day. So, how do we reduce the damage caused by the paper industry while saving money? Well, one way that students of all ages can save hundreds of dollars while combating pollution and reducing the amount of harmful byproducts in our environment is by switching to online textbooks. Everybody knows that traditional, printed textbooks are expensive; Some of them can cost as much as $250! This not only drains the consumer’s bank account, but contributes to the contamination of sediments in watersheds, emission of toxic air pollution, mass consumption of energy and water, dumping of vast quantities of solid waste in landfills, and deforestation.
The three primary causes of environmental destruction as a result of the paper industry are water pollution, air pollution, and deforestation. There are few studies on the effect of textbook disposal on the environment, specifically; However, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) releases a biannual report regarding materials in the solid waste stream and in 2009 the EPA found that approximately 33.3 percent of books in the waste stream are recovered and approximately 640,000 tons are discarded into the landfill. The final paper product is not the only source of pollution, as much of this damage is a consequence of the toxic byproducts from manufacturing.
In order to turn trees into pulp, the kraft or sulfite processes are employed- both of which utilize harmful chemicals that remain in discarded wastewater used in production. These processes also produce dangerous gases that contribute to climate change and helps to generate acid rain. These Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) include, but are not limited to: Nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulfur dioxide (SO2), and carbon dioxide (CO2). In addition to these GHGs, other chemicals that are harmful to human health (hydrogen sulfide, methyl mercaptan, dimethyl sulfide, dimethyl disulfide, etc) are released into our air supply and we breathe them in every single day.
Not only do we breathe these toxins in, we eat them. The consumption of dioxins, or highly toxic pollutants that are also created in the production of herbicides (yes, herbicides) is fairly common throughout the world. While many countries monitor dioxin levels in their food supply, contamination can still slip through the cracks until it has reached dangerous levels- as seen in Ireland in 2008. Even though risk assessments showed no concern for public health, the country was forced to recall tons of meat that were reported to have up to 200 times the safe limit of dioxins which were traced back to contaminated feed for domesticated animals in 1999. When humans consume these animals, they absorb the compound over time and are more susceptible to damage in the reproductive, developmental, and immune systems, hormone interference, and even cancer. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 90% of human exposure is through diet, particularly the consumption of meat, dairy, fish and shellfish. Once consumed, the compounds can last for upwards of 20 years, due to their chemical stability and capacity to be absorbed by fat tissues. The WHO asserts that the concentration of dioxins in the body increases with each link in the food chain, meaning humans are at a high-risk level.
Not only are domesticated animals affected by the paper industry, but wild animals are also impacted by the mass deforestation that occurs as a result of increased demand for paper. We must protect the 80% of Earth’s land animals and plants residing in forests (such as the one I visited in Guatemala seen below), many of which cannot survive the deforestation threatening their homes. Habitat loss, destruction of watersheds, loss of climate-mitigating resources, and reduction of biodiversity are just some of the repercussions of deforestation. Furthermore, we are not only creating more GHGs through paper production, we are destroying the very trees that cleanse the earth, air, and water of those toxins.
By switching to online textbooks you will not only reduce the amount of paper in our landfills, reduce air and water pollution, minimize the release of harmful chemicals, and combat deforestation, you will also save money and do better in school. How, exactly? Well first and foremost, printed books lose value as soon as your credit card transaction goes through and by the end of the semester they could be completely outdated. Alternatively, digital textbooks can be edited and updated as needed without the consumer having to spend any additional money. In this way, your product can actually improve after you’ve bought it. Additionally, online books can be customized by the professor and/or the student; Teachers can emphasize certain crucial information in the text while students can take personalized quizzes and review flashcards of key terms. They easily accommodate every learning style, as most companies include videos, podcasts, interactive simulations, and assessments. So whether you’re an aural, visual, or verbal learner, there are plenty of ways to customize your learning experience and maximize your information retention.
An article by Huffington Post claims says the average college student will spend $655 on textbooks each year, but I have personally spent $700 on textbooks in a single semester. With some textbooks easily costing as much as $250, the total each student spends in a year can easily be much higher and students attending for-profit schools typically spend even more. On the other hand, e-text companies offer books for as little as $20 and if you’re really lucky, you may even be able to find your text absolutely free. Companies like Flat World and McGraw Hill Education offer better studying experiences at discounted prices. They seem to understand that traditional printed textbooks are soon to be a thing of the past and are actively working to continue improving this technological market. Additionally, there is growing interest in developing open-source textbooks in which students can download books for free. A study conducted on five major universities by the Student Public Interest Research Groups found that on average students could save $128 per course by dropping “dead-tree texts”. If you’re taking five courses this semester, that’s a savings of $640 and I don’t know of a single college student (or human being) who couldn’t use $640. Especially since you’ll probably only read a couple of pages from a textbook (because let’s be real, you’re hardly going to open those books at all this semester) and they will end up in a box somewhere in your house since you simply cannot justify throwing away a $200 book that you will never look at again. I know this, because that box is under my bed as I type.
So, trust me!! I have been using online textbooks since I spent that $700 in one semester and I never looked back. The customizable aspect is unimaginably beneficial to my overall academic experience and I have personally saved around $1,500* in the past three years. I highly recommend e-texts to any and all students with the opportunity to use them!
-Save more of your wallet by selling any textbooks you may currently have in your possession to a one of the many companies that recycles used textbooks such as Amazon or Chegg (who will send you a box and pay for shipping)!
-Save more of the planet by combating deforestation and pollution caused from paper production by using the Ecosia search engine when you’re studying. At Ecosia, the proceeds generated by advertisements are used to plant trees in the 25 most threatened forest ecosystems as well as poor agricultural communities. If you don’t end up liking Ecosia (although, who wouldn’t?!), you can always get out there and plant trees yourself!! The earth will thank you. So what are you waiting for? Go start saving!