Esquire magazine’s October issue has an E-ink cover. Neat, right? But reading the website notes on it made me realize that if this is the future of magazine publishing, then we might as well give up on environmental sustainability right now.Â It should be called the E-waste cover. Consider:
“Esquire’s 75th Anniversary E-Ink cover took more than a year to develop and traveled seven thousand miles (and then some) just to get into your hands.”
So we have increased transport needs to get it to me, which means increased fuel, increased carbon emissions from transport, increased wear and tear on roads.
“Shanghai, China. The issue’s display screen, electronics, and batteries are assembled here, using components made in at least seven different factories.”
As opposed to one printing factory.
“Hurdles overcome include flooding that destroyed 250,000 batteries,”
When those find their way downstream and corrode because they weren’t disposed of properly, what chemicals are going to leach into the environment?
“A very real countdown also begins: once activated in China, the batteries in the magazines will last roughly ninety days.”
Electronics that last 90 days, then are disposed of. This is a good thing?
“The electronics used in the covers are flown to Dallas, where they are then taken via refrigerated truck to Negras, Mexico. (The magazines must be shipped cold to help preserve battery life, which erodes in extreme heat, like those found in that area during late July.)”
So in addition to the fuel and energy costs of basic transport, we’re adding refrigerated transport? There’s more fuel down the drain, and did we leak any coolant on the road?Â Likely we did.
“Once in Mexico, a hundred-thousand-plus covers are assembled by hand, with a thin layer of protective foam used to protect the electronics.”
More chemical impact on the environment that wasn’t necessary to read the magazine.
“The completed covers are put back into refrigerated trucks and shipped to Kentucky, home of RR Donnelley, the company that prints Esquire magazine”
Yet more refrigerated travel before we even start printing the regular magazine.
Then we get to the page on how to recycle the magazine:
“Simply tear off the cover and dispose of the display unit in your recycling. The electronic components and lithium batteries are not regulated as hazardous waste. The entire electronic assembly is RoHS (Restriction of Hazardous Substances) compliant and marked as such on the printed circuit board in the cover. All of it can be recycled through your local municipal waste program in the same manner as you dispose of household batteries. (Check local regulations for any further restrictions.) The paper can go in your paper recycling, and the protective foam in your plastic recycling.”
Sure, but it’s still e-waste, which is a whole lot more damaging than the paper waste, or we could throw the whole thing out together.
So if e-ink is the future of magazine publishing, we’re in big trouble.Â We’ve just made a system that, without even looking at the numbers, clearly has a much higher environmental impact than the magazine as normally published. I really don’t think I want this to become the 21st century norm, thanks.
If anyone’s got actual numbers on the carbon footprint of this issue as opposed to regular issues, please let me know.Â Meantime, please enjoy Esquire online, and save a whole lot more than a tree.