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Textbook Downloads -- Green or Not?

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In four years, a typical college student in the U.S. spends $4,000 on textbooks. Not being of a generation to stand by and get squeezed, young scholars are starting to scream about rising costs. After all, an average student spends less than half that amount on alcohol in the same period, according to data from 2005.

But we know students care about more than beer budgets. How about the fact that four years' worth of college textbooks use the paper equivalent of yields from at least six 40-foot trees? With publishers furiously putting out new editions (New York Times Digital Domain columnist Randall Stross explains why ), the environmental footprint of college texts could swell to mammoth size all too soon. Not pretty.

So wily students are looking for ways to save -- and going green in the process. Hundreds of Facebook groups connect book buyers and sellers on campuses around the country, and sites like CafeScribe and Freeload Press give students and professors access to a growing library of digital books. Downloading and reading e-books uses a significant amount of energy, but according to a life cycle analysis from the University of Michigan, the digital form uses fewer resources than our beloved dead-tree tomes. Toxic waste from discarded computers and e-book readers represents another threat to the environment and human health -- so don't underestimate the importance of proper recycling.

If you'd rather not mess with high tech trash, you can take advantage of a decidedly low-tech booksharing platform that's made a comeback this summer: the library. NPR reports that bookworms have turned to the stacks this summer to feed their reading habits without breaking the bank.

Share your stories and ideas: Where did you get the last book you read? In what medium did you read it? What do you do with books you don't need anymore?

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