You Want To Print The Entire Internet? Here’s What You’ll Need

Students at the University of Leicester calculate how many pages–and trees–it would take to print the entire internet

image via (cc) flickr user luschei

The internet, to borrow a phrase from author Douglas Adams, “is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is.”

It’s not, however, infinite. And while it may be growing daily, there will always be a limit to just how much stuff exists online. With that in mind, a pair of students at the UK’s University of Leicester have come up with a unique way of quantifying cyberspace: By determining exactly how much paper it would take to print everything online. The entire internet.

In “How Much of the Amazon Would it Take to Print the Internet?" students George Harwood and Evangeline Walker calculate not only the amount of standard A4 sheets of paper it would take to display the entire contents of the internet, but exactly how many would be required to create that much paper in the first place. They begin, as most college students these days do, with Wikipedia, writing:

English Wikipedia, a substantial website, contains 4723991 pages alone [4]. By considering ten of these pages randomly, an estimate of the average number of paper pages they would each require is estimated as 15, therefore: 4723991 × 15 = 70859865 paper pages (1) If this is applied to the Internet as a whole, its 4.54 billion pages [5] corresponds to a staggering 6.81 x 1010 paper pages

However, this is a very conservative assumption, as many web pages could require a conservative estimate of as many as 100 paper pages. Therefore an estimate of average paper pages per web pages of the Internet is estimated as at least 30:

4.54 × 109 × 30 = 1.36 × 1011

For those for whom math isn’t a first language, that’s about one hundred and thirty six billion sheets of paper.
Once Harwood and Walker had that number, the next step was determining just how many trees it would take to manufacture that staggering volume of paper. Based on a calculated 8,500 obtainable sheets of paper per tree, the students determined:

With the estimated 6.81 x 1010 paper pages required to print the Internet, this corresponds to:

6.61 × 1010 / 500 = 13.62 × 107 reams of paper (4)

Continuing the assumption of 17 reams of paper per tree, this would require 8011765 trees.
That, they estimate, would require trees from 113 square kilometers of Amazon rainforest, or about 0.002% of the Amazon’s estimated area of 5.5 million square kilometers.
The study was published in the University of Leicester’s peer-reviewed student journal, and is not without its flaws. Are these theoretical pages being printed as single, or double-sided sheets? What about websites consisting primarily of media files, like images, videos, and music?
Still, for all its ambiguity, the student’s paper offers a compelling–if questionably accurate–look at how astonishingly large the internet truly is.
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