Editor’s Note: The Environmental Policy and Planning Commission (EPPC) is an ASUCD commission responsible for researching environmental issues affecting the campus and its surrounding area, and providing recommendations for improvement.
Upon receiving an iPad for Christmas, the eco-warrior in me was torn: could I ever take enough notes on my glamorous new device to justify the environmental costs? The obvious argument in favor of the iPad is that by switching from your typical paper notebook to an electronic one, you’re saving trees. Here at EPPC, we cannot overstate our enthusiasm for trees and forests, so seemingly sparing the trees was a strong selling point for me. However, the choice becomes less clear when we compare the realities associated with production, use, and eventual disposal: iPads are a product of an energy-intensive and socially questionable genesis, requiring coltan to be mined from politically unstable countries such as the Congo. On the other hand, the paper in your seemingly innocuous notebook is the result of large-scale deforestation, which presents a host of consequent environmental and social threats such as biodiversity loss and decreased water quality.
Comparing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions over the course of usage of both products shifts the metric in favor of the iPad, especially if you already own the device and are considering extending its use to include your schoolwork. The production of a single piece of notebook paper equates to about 0.03 pounds of GHG, which matches a full day of iPad usage (at 0.003 kilowatt-hours per hour). Unless you’re an incredibly efficient note taker with microscopic handwriting, the mighty iPad wins out. However, savvy students know that it’s wasteful to buy something you don’t need, and this sustainable shopper suggests refraining from a major electronics purchase if your only goal is “greener” note-taking. However, if you plan on exploring the full utility of your device by downloading e-books, streaming lectures and doing your homework, the iPad could go from a glorified Facebook stalking device to a green machine indeed!