Which is a more environmentally friendly choice, an electronic PDA or a paper-based planner?
July 18, 2006 10:21 AM   Subscribe

Which is a more environmentally friendly choice, an electronic PDA or a paper-based planner?

I'm trying to decide whether to use an electronic PDA (i.e. a Palm) or a paper-based planner system (Franklin, Hipster, D*I*Y, etc.).

I've determined that either style would be suitable for my needs and obviously, both have their pros and cons for many reasons other than their impact on the environment, so I'm not looking for recommendations on any particular system from a productivity standpoint.

The PDA's case, internals and battery may (or may not be?) a hazard to simply throw away, so some effort will have to be expended to dispose of it or recycle it when it stops working. The only ongoing resource I would need is electricity.

Paper based planners need a continuous input of paper, and probably a recurring purchase of pens or pencils. I could use recycled paper, and I have a lot of pens and pencils around already.

So in keeping with my desire to reduce my impact on the environment by 1) reducing my use of resources (electricity, the trees used for paper, and whatever resources are necessary to produce these products), and 2) recycling what I no longer need (nonfunctioning or obsolete PDA, used paper, nonfunctioning pens/pencils) which is the more environmentally friendly choice?
posted by SuperSquirrel to Society & Culture (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'd guess a paper planner would be better, for all the reasons you list.

Planners don't actually use that much paper. My weekly "At-A-Glance" has about 80 pages -- each about a sixth the size of a sheet of ordinary letter paper -- and allows me to map out all my plans for the years. That's about 14 sheets of normal paper, plus a spiral to keep it together and an infinitely reusable carrying case.

I tried the hipster PDA thing for a while, and decided that the old school planner, perfected through decades of trial and error, actually does a better job.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 10:28 AM on July 18, 2006

I imagine the most completely environmentally-friendly way would be to make your own paper out of the used paper from your first paper planner, then re-use it. Not terribly practical, though.
posted by jack_mo at 10:29 AM on July 18, 2006

Best answer: I should add -- I've been using this "At a Glance" calendar since January, and expect it to last through December. I'm 28 now. So if I replace the planner every year for the next 50 years, I'll have used up around the equivalent of 700 sheets of 8.5 x 11 inch paper -- all of it recyclable -- and probably a few dozen pens.

How many landfills will have been filled by each succesive PDA in that time?

I have a reasonably busy schedule, and manage to fit work, family, fun and wedding planning activities into this small little booklet. PDAs seem like cool toys, I guess, but I reallly don't get why people think they're more effective for time management.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 10:35 AM on July 18, 2006

Best answer: Buy a paper planner and donate the difference in cost from a PDA to the Sierra Club or similar organization.
posted by Espy Gillespie at 10:41 AM on July 18, 2006

If you get something like a Treo that combines a phone with a PDA then you kill two with one stone... And only add one gadget to the landfill (oh, but you recycle your old gadgets, right...?)

Whether it's an improvement productivity-wise, I can't say, but with all those games you're just asking for trouble ;-)
posted by yuletide at 11:07 AM on July 18, 2006

Just a guess that you wrote the original post on a big hunk of metal, circuits, plastic and other toxic material that will eventually find its way to the dump...

Use whatever you prefer. Some people (like myself) can't STAND a PDA or can't stand a paper planner (or both, in my case. Thank you Google Calendar)

My guess is if you haven't used either then more likely you're not even sure which works better for you. (i.e. you may end up buying both in the long-run :)
posted by jimmy0x52 at 11:13 AM on July 18, 2006

Best answer: The paper planner is more environmentally friendly. It's mostly paper, a recyclable and renewable resource. The main environmental impact is the energy consumed in producing the paper, binding, and other materials. I don't know how much this is, but since you can get a day planner for a few dollars, it can't be the energy equivalent of more than a few gallons of oil, if that.

The PDA uses quite a bit of energy, water, and mineral resources in its production. This site estimates 17.5 pounds of fossil fuels and 350 pounds of water go into just the microchip portion of a cellphone. That excludes the plastics, chip board, battery, packaging, and transportation.

That said, I have an embarassing number of personal electronic devices.
posted by justkevin at 11:31 AM on July 18, 2006

Best answer: Paper would have a lesser environmental impact -- as others have noted, the total amount of paper used would be modest. With a PDA, there's the initial environmental impact of manufacture and the incremental impact of recharging it. In the best case, without dropping it or experiencing any other failures, the battery'll get flaky within a few years and need replacing, which is commonly difficult to impossible. And then there's the cost of responsible disposal of the battery or the whole PDA.

All that said, the Earth'd probably be pretty hard-pressed to notice the difference if you bought and used a used PDA. I say this as a vegetarian bike-commuter -- I take seriously that the cumulative effect of our individual choices matter. But (depending on how you live now) you could get more bang for your attention buck looking to other realms for reducing your environmental impact. And that said, you have my thanks for caring.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 11:32 AM on July 18, 2006

To lessen the pen impact, consider a fountain pen + bottle of ink.
posted by shepd at 12:22 PM on July 18, 2006

Response by poster: I have used both at various times, and love both, and have reaped the benefits of both. But my old Palm no longer works, and my old planner isn't exactly right for me anymore, so I've been looking around for a new tool.

I thank you all for your input! All great answers. And the suggestion to donate the difference, Espy Gillespie, is right on.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 2:17 PM on July 18, 2006

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