As for the ultimate fate of devices, the UN estimates that only 20% of discarded electronic devices such as computers, tablets, and smartphones (collectively called e-waste), are recycled. The rest mostly ends up in landfills, along with the small but precious amounts of gold, silver, and copper that are in electronic devices. When consumers upgrade and toss out their old models, some components, such as those made with arsenic and mercury, are considered toxic waste.
So, while e-textbooks and email are more affordable to users than paper versions, are they better for the environment? Given that paper and electronics are so vastly different in form and usage, comparing their environmental footprints is a big challenge, leaving the question of paper or pixel open for discussion.