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Digital vs Print

by Mrs. Pensive 2 years ago in industry
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Which Media Is Better?

Pros and Cons of Digital and Print media

Evans, Brenna

Date: 11/14/2020


We live in a world filled with media. Our two media types are printed media and electronic media. both are carelessly wasted daily and consumed at an alarmingly high rate. We do not recycle enough, and we do not dispose of our products properly. Not properly disposing our electronics lead to the waste of rare metals, decent hardware and chemical leakage from the battery and hardware into our water and soil systems. Improper disposal of printed media leads to landfill build up, materials that could be recycled and reused trashed and adding to our landfills and often waste buildup in our water systems. We live in a world that cannot simply stop the over production or over waste of both media types, however there are facts we should know about both print and digital media before we consume and dispose of them both. Digital media is a more reasonable approach to our waste problem. Digital media holds the ability to retain information on one small microchip and the Cloud versus destruction of trees to produce paper and furnishings to hold said printed documents. As we advance in technology, we are also advancing in our ability to create print material that is 100%biodegradable. This is still new and expensive but in time we will see it is a good alternative for some printed media and it can help cut down on waste build up.


We live in a world surrounded by continual production of printed and electronic media that is continually wasted and recycled. While printed media creates waste that pollutes our oceans, fills our landfills, and is not always biodegradable, digital media also creates an incredible amount of hazardous waste. Nowadays we need both to thrive. Which one benefits us the most? Which one harms our environment the most? Throughout this paper we will cover the two types of media, their pros and cons, and simple solutions to handling and properly disposing of them.

Digital media

Technology benefits us in many ways. Our communication has greatly advanced because instead of receiving news via mail or phone call we can now instant message. Our connections to those outside of our community have become easier in that we can connect worldwide via the internet and social media. Being able to learn in different environments is now possible with technology. Instead of learning in a specific building, we can learn on an app. Many people can take work home with them because of the internet, such as freelance graphic artists. We can edit a photo and fix it to our liking. Finding a destination has become much easier with the help of technology. Digital media enables a product brand to be made known and sold at a quick rate. Social media such as Facebook and Instagram are one of many platforms that advertise several things such as education and multiple products.

Damages caused

The damage caused to our environment by electronics is often overlooked. According to Carli (2010). “Just because we cannot see something doesn’t mean it does not exist.” (Is digital media worse for the environment than print)? Electronics produce grey matter which is waste that cannot be renewed. Electronics not only require a large power source, but it does not give back to the environment in any way. We cut down mountains to make a path for electric lines. Power plants use the coal from the mountains to power our cities which also power our devices. Paper waste is still renewable by recycling. Carli (2010) also states,

“Coal-powered digital media is destructive to the environment in many ways beyond deforestation. Coal fired power plants are responsible for 93% of the sulfur dioxide and 80% of the nitrogen oxide emissions generated by the electric utility industry. These emissions cause acid rain that is destroying red spruce forests in the Northeast and Appalachia and killing brook trout and other fish species in the Adirondacks, upper Midwest and Rocky Mountains.”

Going digital may cut a percentage of waste down, but it is still harmful to our environment.

Digital media is full of precious metals such as gold, silver, copper, coltan, platinum, palladium, and other valuable materials. “We’re throwing away at least $55 billion in recoverable materials by failing to recycle all of that e-waste,” said Vanessa Gray of the International Telecommunication Union in an interview. When electronics are thrown into landfills, they leak harsh chemicals. These chemicals include lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, copper, beryllium, barium, chromium, nickel, zinc, silver and gold. Each year there are rare earth metals mined and refined for the use in electronic devices. Even though these rare earth metals are worth a bit of money and recyclable, they are also very harmful to the environment in how they are mined. Johnathan (2014) states,

“Processing rare earths is a dirty business. Their ore is often laced with radioactive materials such as thorium and separating the wheat from the chaff requires huge amounts of carcinogenic toxins – sulphates, ammonia and hydrochloric acid. Processing one ton of rare earths produces 2,000 tons of toxic waste; Baotou's rare earths enterprises produce 10m tons of wastewater per year. They're pumped into tailings dams, like the one by Wang's village, 12km west of the city centre.”

In this article Johnathan explains how in China’s mining such materials can be devastating to the environment. Many villages are left empty because the water source is contaminated, and people get sick. Since 2014 China has cleaned up and is mining and disposing of waste better. China is the number one rare earth miner. China mined 120,000 MT of rare metals in 2018. Next in mining production line comes Australia. In 2018 they mined 20,000 MT. Third country to produce these metals is the United States. In 2018 the U.S. mined 15,000 MT.


Electronic devices are built to last a few years before needing to be replaced. By reducing the use of electronics each day, we can save energy. Here are some ways we can reduce the use and waste of electronics:

1. Maintain the current device being used.

a. Keeping the Solid-State Drive memory from being too full can reduce overheating which will enable the device to last.

2. Recycle electronics.

a. Guest (2019) States, “Recycling old electronics allows the expensive electronic parts inside to be reused. This can save a lot of energy and reduce the need for mining of new raw resources or manufacturing new parts. You can find electronic recycling programs in your local area by doing a Google search for “recycle electronics” and your city or area name.”

3. Sell unwanted electronics.

a. There are many ways to sell unwanted devices. eBay, Craigslist, Offer Up, and Letgo are a couple online platforms that enable selling and purchasing unwanted tech as well as other items.

4. Rent electronic devices.

a. Renting devices enables electronics to be used longer and creates less waste.

Print Media

Trees are used to make paper products and wood products, but not all these products are recycled even though it costs roughly the same as throwing waste in a landfill. According to Talk (2019), “A well-run curbside recycling program can cost anywhere from $50 to more than $150 per ton…trash collection and disposal programs, on the other hand, cost anywhere from $70 to more than $200 per ton. This demonstrates that, while there’s still room for improvements, recycling can be cost-effective.” Why do we just throw things into a landfill? What happens when we do not carefully dispose or recycle products?

Damages caused

The united states produce three times more waste than the global average. Each year the average American produces 1,704 pounds of waste. According to Joe, (2019) “Across 194 countries, the researchers found that the world produces 2.3 billion tons of municipal solid waste each year, which is enough to fill 822,000 Olympic-sized pools. Of this waste, just 16% is recycled, while 46% is disposed of unsustainably in ways that harm the environment.” Recycling can reduce water use by 60%, energy use by 40%, air pollution by 74%, and water pollution by 35%.


Other than recycling, there are other ways to reduce our waste consumption. Many of those ways are simple and affordable. Here are some of those ways:

1. Use reusable bags in place of one-time-use plastic bags.

a. Plastic bags take up to 1,000 years to degrade. Plastic floods our oceans. Only 17% of waste is recycled out of the total amount of waste produced.

2. Ditch plastic water bottles.

a. Water bottles may be recycled but the plastic label is not. The printed label may be quite pretty, but it is not recyclable nor is it biodegradable.

3. Purchase as many items in bulk.

a. There are many grocery stores that enable us to purchase our foods in bulk. Buying locally at places like Farmer’s Markets allow us the benefit of purchasing bulk fresh foods while supporting the local businesses.

4. Use razors that use replaceable blades.

a. The average razor allows at least 3 shaves before being disposed. When using replaceable blades, you keep from wasting. Most blades can be sharpened a few times before being disposed.

5. Don’t throw away black and white print newspapers. Newspapers are still quite a popular way of advertisement and entertainment. Before discarding that newspaper, use it to line a plant box. Fold it into a small box and fill with seed starting soil to grow seedlings.

Print media is often viewed as more damaging than electronics because there are more materials used and wasted. Deforestation and plastic production are two of the biggest issues in the print media world. It not only effects water levels, biodiversity, and soil fertility, but it also effects our air levels. Trees maintain our oxygen and carbon dioxide levels, and when large amounts of trees are removed our ozone is affected. Josie (2017). states,

“Another impact to consider is a newspaper's carbon footprint. According to Mike LeeBerners, a leading expert in carbon foot printing, a 'quality' weekend paper's edition which is sent to landfill after use has a carbon footprint of 4.1 kilograms. This is roughly equivalent to half a flight from Leeds to London.” (What is the environmental impact of print media?)

Klein (Aug 29) states, “Many companies reject print media advertising, believing the digital age has given way to more efficient forms of marketing. But comparisons between print media and electronic media have shown that print media provides many incredible advantages.” (What are the advantages of print media over electronic media)? Viewers can turn off a web advertisement but with print, they end up viewing the advertisement and throwing it away. Print media is believed to be more credible, thus readers are more likely to pick a magazine and read it than read a full article on a blog. Print media helps ease stress while traveling, hence flight attendants will hand out some form of print to people. Print media engages the senses and it captivates the reader. With print media, there are no interruptions.

We can recycle paper and re-use it. There are many products produced that are not only harmless for the environment but are packed in biodegradable packaging. Two popular stores that make biodegradable and ecofriendly hygiene products are LUSH Cosmetics and Ethique. LUSH Cosmetics Prides themselves in making products that do not require packaging such as massage bars, shampoo and conditioner bars, bath bombs, and soap. The containers they do use are recycled and reused. If you bring in your containers, then you receive a free product. Their paper packaging is biodegradable and when they ship items out to you the packing peanuts are made of vegetable starch, so they are 100% biodegradable. Ethique makes shampoo bars to have as many uses as three shampoo bottles. Their conditioner bar is made to have as many uses as five bottles of conditioner. Ethique also makes in shower storage containers composed of bamboo and corn fibers and they are compostable. The packaging for these bars is made of compostable cardboard and the ink is soy based thus leaving out the toxins that could leach into our water system while at the same time the cardboard can be composted.

Many printed products are biodegradable. Many companies have developed “plastic” out of plant cellulose and other edible products, so they are consumed by either humans or animals. For example, SCOBY, (Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast), is used in making Kombucha however it is now able to be used as a zero-waste packaging by drying out thin sheets. It is fully edible and recyclable. SCOBY is 100% biodegradable.

When trying to reduce the amount of waste think about these three questions:

1. Do you really need this material?

a. Often, people buy more than what they need when grocery shopping. By purchasing only what is needed, waste is reduced. When purchasing only the necessities, plastic bag waste is also reduced.

2. Will you use this material more than once?

a. Many items that are purchased are single use. Those products are not always biodegradable. Ziplock bags are one of those items. When using Ziplock bags, fill them as much as possible thus reducing extra bags being thrown away.

3. Is this material biodegradable?

a. Plastic is not biodegradable. Instead of plastic bags, use paper or fabric bags. They are cost efficient.

4. Is this material recyclable?

a. Many items are recyclable. Before throwing an object away, check the bottom for a triangle composed or arrows with a number in it. Number’s one, two, four, and five mean the item is recyclable. Throw that item into the recycle bin. Tin cans are recyclable and can earn some jump change in the process.

There are many ways to keep from wasting printed media. There is no solid cure as we will always have a use for plastic, paper, metal, and other materials, however how we recycle or dispose of our waste can play a key role in keeping our environment. Remember to look on the packaging for the recycle symbols before throwing it away.

Another alternative Sweden has come up with is using the trash to power the city. They divide their trash using colored bags. The green bags are organic waste. When the trash is taken to the processing plant, it is dumped onto a conveyer belt and special sensors detect the green bags and remove them to be processed into biofuel. The other trash is burned and the energy that is produced from that is used to power the city.

Psychological benefits

With print media there are endless textures. Print media offers a 3D, hands on experience. Toddlers learn constantly with their hands and need engaging materials like letter blocks, pop up books, scented stickers, metallic images. When learning in a classroom, students remember more by reading printed media because it engages more of the brain than digital media. Dooley (2016) explains,

“Direct mail requires 21% less cognitive effort to process than digital media (5.15 vs. 6.37), suggesting that it is both easier to understand and more memorable. Post-exposure memory tests validated what the cognitive load test revealed about direct mail’s memory encoding capabilities. When asked to cite the brand (company name) of an advertisement they had just seen, recall was 70% higher among participants who were exposed to a direct mail piece (75%) than a digital ad (44%).”

In Rodger’s article, he explains the brain retains memory more using print media than digital.

Bangor University and branding agency Millward Brown conducted a study in 2009 using an fMRI to study the difference digital and paper have on the brain. They concluded that paper is more “real” than digital. Things that are tangible are recognized as having more meaning than things we cannot touch thus making the item more memorable. Physical items produce more mental stimulation because we can feel the item. We will have a deeper emotional response when touching textures. For example, many people do not like the sound or feel of nails scraping on a chalkboard. Their skin will produce goosebumps as a result. Feeling soft textures may produce the sense of security.

Another study was conducted with students in Norway. They concluded that students who read physical books scored higher reading comprehension than those who read digital books.


It is difficult to say whether digital media or print media is better as they both have their benefits, and they can be quite harmful to the environment. Recycling, re-using, and not immediately disposing of electronics will not only save waste build up, but it will save the use of energy and resources. Money will be saved when removing expensive materials from electronics and our waters will be kept clean when properly disposing of harsh chemicals as well. when refraining from overusing and recycling printed media, we keep our landfills from being over filled and our oceans stay clear. When we recycle paper products, the amount of waste is kept at a minimum. Remember using paper instead of plastic is helpful because paper is more biodegradable than plastic. Purchasing products that are “naked” or without packaging is another solution to remember. Most of our waste comes from the packaging of our products. Going digital reduces the amount of printed waste, but it is a never-ending cycle of pros and cons. Either way digital and print media is here, and it is our job to use it wisely. Last but not least think of how each media type best benefits the mind.


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About the author

Mrs. Pensive

-Trauma is real. But so is healing and not letting it define us.

-Let us see the world as the soul does: Vibrant and worthy of love.

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