December 3, 2007 Computer screens aren’t really conducive to reading pages and pages of text so with the proliferation of online content has come new ways to view words electronically. E-paper is a display technology designed to mimic the appearance of ordinary ink on paper - even its flexibility - and according to new research, reading the news on e-paper is more environmentally friendly than viewing via PC. Interestingly, the study by the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm also showed that 30 minutes of reading an Internet newspaper has about the same environmental effect as reading a hard copy version.

Developed to overcome the limitations of computer screens, e-paper reflects light like ordinary paper instead of using a backlight to illuminate pixels and is capable of holding text and images indefinitely without drawing electricity. This in turn means energy savings far beyond that of reading online instead of in print. The recent study by the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, “Screening environmental life cycle assessment of printed, Web-based, and tablet e-paper newspapers”, showed that reading on e-paper for 30 minutes produced the same load on the environment as reading a web-based publication for 10 minutes. Further, the study concluded that 30 minutes of reading an Internet newspaper per day has about the same environmental effect as reading a conventional paper newspaper.

The greatest burden on the environment for the paper version is the production of the paper, and in electronic format, the power consumption benefits of e-paper over computer screens come to the fore. The research considered the resource use and environmental impact from the entire life cycle of the various alternatives in order to determine these outcomes. Other factors that affect the environmental load are how many people read a specific copy of a newspaper and the length of life for a computer, a screen, and e-paper. Whether the equipment is used by one or several people and whether it is used for purposes other than newspaper reading are also factors to be considered. With readers now available for e-books some see this as the future of publishing. Fujitsu is one of the leaders in this field. Having previously unveiled flexible color e-paper, this year the company has changed the form factor into an "e-reader" - a prototype content browser the size of an A5 sheet of paper that’s lightweight and features and color display. E-paper is still under development, and more detailed studies of production, substances used, and waste management need to be done to steer this product development in the right direction but it seems clear that e-paper potentially has a significant advantage over paper and online methods of reading newspapers with regard to environmental impact.