Amazon’s Kindle is among one of the popular e-readers. Kindle is a simple, palm-sized device with thousands of books and a month’s worth of battery life.
In the wake of the climate crisis, we know that a circular economy is the only way out. So, we have to put kindle under test whether it is sustainable or not. As Amazon doesn’t release any information about the materials or energy output of the kindle, it is difficult to say if it is 100% environment friendly or not. A shout out to kindle paperwhite’s e-ink technology and amazon’s trade-in program. The e-ink display used in kindle is definitely environment friendly but amazon’s vagueness in terms of raw material acquisition and labor practices make the overall sustainability of kindle skeptical.
Hence, after doing an in-depth analysis allegedly it can be stated that overall kindle paperwhite by amazon is not a sustainable product in its entirety as the practices involved in the manufacturing, shipment, and human rights are not sustainable.
Kindle is an e-reader designed and marketed by Amazon. Launched in 2007, the kindle becomes one of the ubiquitous pieces of technology. According to Good E-reader, about 20-90 million Kindles have been sold by 2018. Over these years kindle has evolved into various models but consistently maintained its core purpose i.e. reading. Kindle Paperwhite 4th generation was launched in 2018 and got popularized for its 6-inch 300 PPI glare-free full touch-screen with electronic-ink (e-ink) display that reads like real paper even in the bright sunlight. Its features include 8-32 GB storage, lightweight, extra battery life, and water resistance.
Kindle paperwhite like many other devices, uses a good amount of plastic, both in manufacturing and packaging. Kindle is made via injection mold technique in which molded products are obtained by injecting plastic materials molten by heat into a mold and then cooled and solidified. This allows mass production of perfectly similar items. As amazon won’t tell us what kind of plastic it uses to make kindles, this makes their commitment to sustainability bogus.
The e-ink display in kindle is definitely sustainable as it uses the ‘bistability’ feature which helps in reducing the power consumption significantly. Even when all the power sources are removed, the e-ink display retains an image without consuming any extra power. Because of this feature, the kindle paperwhite is capable of 28 hours of battery life.
Lithium-ion battery used in kindle comes under hazardous material because they are made up of heavy metals. Lithium-ion batteries release toxic chemicals through leaching and spills that can harm communities, ecosystems, and food production. But because of the rechargeable nature and low maintenance of lithium batteries, the kindle has a long life and less disposal.
It is difficult to find what raw materials and metals go into flex circuit connectors, wireless cards, and controller boards. The secrecy of Amazon in terms of raw material acquisition raises fingers towards its sustainable and environment-friendly practices.
Amazon does not publish any additional information on whether the other materials that go into the Amazon devices like kindle are from sustainable sources or not. In terms of manufacturing and production of kindle, it is difficult to say how the flex circuit connectors, wireless cards, controller boards, and lithium polymer battery are made but one thing is known that these are manufactured in Asia including the electrophoretic display (e-ink) and highly polished injection-molded case. The controller boards used in kindle allow the electricity to flow throughout the device. They require a massive amount of water for manufacturing. The controller boards in general lead to several environmental problems like production of contaminated fluids, usage of toxic metals, the release of toxic gases, and hazardous waste.
According to Greenpeace Guide to Greener Electronics, “Amazon remains one of the least transparent companies in the world in terms of its environmental performance… the company provides few details on its sourcing of recycled materials that are going into its devices, nor does it publish any restrictions on hazardous chemicals in its devices or being used in its supply chain as other leading electronics brands provide.”
With new upgraded models coming almost every year, consumers discard or resell their old kindles. To tackle this problem Amazon offers the option of a recycling program or to trade-in the used electronics. The trade-in program allows customers to receive an Amazon gift card in exchange for used amazon devices. On Amazon’s website, they mentioned that they either restore or re-sold these used devices, and any device not qualified for resale is recycled. Although to restore or recycle the kindle, the shipping is free of cost, but packaging and transportation will add to the carbon footprint of the kindle. As an alternative amazon also offers free drop-off in its retail stores. Amazon recycles its electronic devices through an Amazon-certified recycler- Re-Teck.
Certainly, the procedure to recycle or trade-in our old devices is a good step but the customer is then buying another amazon product that will likely have many environmental effects attached to it. This also raises the question; how many people actually send their used or old kindle back.
Amazon highlights many ethical issues like human rights, worker’s rights, supply chain management, working conditions, and animal rights. It is unpopular for the treatment of its workforce. Over the years, Amazon has drawn strong criticism about its working conditions too. In addition to this, amazon tracks its workers inside warehouses very strictly treating humans like robots inciting a culture of fear. The fair-wage, social justice, ethical labor practices, and values are limited to amazon’s sustainability reports only.
No matter how eco-friendly and sustainable materials amazon uses for its products, the exploitation of its worker throughout the supply chain definitely deserves a 0 rating.
Kindle sale’s data
Kindle recycling information
Greenpeace Guide to Greener Electronics, 2017
Amazon sustainability report, 2019 https://sustainability.aboutamazon.com/pdfBuilderDownload?name=sustainability-thinking-big-december-2019
Dowd-Hinkle, Dealva Jade, "Kindle vs. Printed Book- An Environmental Analysis" (2012). Thesis. Rochester Institute of Technology
Manufacturing of kindle parts
Information about materials used in kindle
Work culture and labor practices in amazon