Greening your gadgets
By Joe Hutsko
Evaluating how much energy you use and waste can be an eye-opening experience that may compel you to pay closer attention to what the Consumer Electronics Association’s website, digitaltips.org, refers to as the fourth R: rethink. Rethinking applies to how you use gadgets you own, how you shop
for new, eco-friendly ones and how you dispose of those you no longer want or need.
Evaluating your energy usage and waste
When it comes to your gadgets, the most important issue to consider isn’t how much or how little energy they use or waste, but how much you waste. A gadget, whether it is the latest and most energy- efficient model or is old and inefficient, uses energy only when you use it—and for many gadgets, even when you don’t use it.
Most electronic gadgets, new and old alike, continue to draw power when they’re turned off but are in standby mode. So, turning off your television cuts most, but not all, of the power it draws as it stands by, ready to display the picture more quickly when you turn it on.
Gadgets that continue to draw power even when they are turned off are sometimes referred to as energy vampires. Although manufacturers are working on or have begun offering eco-friendly products that draw little or almost no power when they’re off or fully charged, zapping any energy vampires you currently own can help lower your energy consumption and your energy bill.
Reducing your gadgets’ energy consumption
The first of the green living R’s—reduce—can be summed up in three words: less is more. Turning off gadgets when you aren’t using them, and adjusting any power setting options they may have so they run more efficiently when you are using them, can provide more savings in both kilowatts and the amount of money you pay for them. According to the International Energy Agency, an estimated 5 to 15 percent of the world’s domestic electricity is wasted by electronic devices idling their time in standby mode.
Two gadgets that help you monitor and manage your energy consumption are The Energy Detective, which uses sensors to tap into your home or apartment circuit breaker to reveal your total household consumption, and the Kill A Watt, which has a single outlet you plug your electronic devices into to monitor how much energy that device consumes when you use it and when it’s turned off.
Plugging your mobile phone charger, television, personal computer and other “standby” devices into an inexpensive power strip makes it easy to pull the plug on all of them at once when you shut off the switch. If you don’t want to bend down or reach behind your gear to hit the switch, plug the power strip into an inexpensive power outlet timer that you can set to automatically switch off the power strip at bedtime.
Consider spending a little extra for a more-advanced power strip, like the Belkin Conserve. It comes with remote controls that let you instantly power off
devices plugged into up to eight of its switchable outlets. Two additional outlets are for always-on devices that you want to keep on, such as your broadband modem, your cable or your Digital Video Recorder that records programs you want to watch another time. Another option is the Smart Strip, which automatically senses when you turn off a device and cuts the power to the outlet accordingly. Other simple actions you can take to reduce your gadgets’ energy consumption include:
- Replace single-use batteries with rechargeable batteries.
- Unplug your mobile phone, personal music player and other gadget chargers when the devices are fully charged.
- Disable your computer’s screen saver and turn on its power setting option to turn off the screen after five minutes of inactivity.
- Read and review documents on screen and only print them when hard copy is absolutely necessary.
- Reduce fuel consumption and automobile emissions by shopping and banking online, and by renting or buying downloadable and streaming movies and television shows rather than renting or buying the disc version.
Reusing your gadgets and electronics
In certain instances, reuse and recycle (the second and third R’s) are interchangeable. Passing on to others gadgets and electronics that are still useable extends the lives of the useable products, and postpones their eventual entry into the waste stream.
Some examples of the interchangeability of reusing and recycling include refilling spent inkjet or toner cartridges instead of buying new ones every time they’re empty. Adding more memory to your computer and installing a bigger hard drive can help it run faster and give you more storage space rather than buying a new computer. Donating, selling or giving away gadgets, computers and other electronics that you no longer want or use, that someone else can use, is another green gadget option.
Recycling gadgets the green way
Although the third R of green gadgets is recycle, it doesn’t necessarily mean items you want to dispose of will be broken down into parts and ground up, melted or otherwise destroyed.
Why should you try to reuse or repurpose a gadget instead of sending it off to a recycler? Here’s where rethinking really comes into play. Think about recycled paper. It comes from existing paper that’s collected, processed and then repurposed as new paper. By selling a gadget or giving it away, you’re repurposing it, but you’re also essentially recycling it. The real win here is that you’re skipping the processing part of breaking down the gadget the way a recycler would when the gadget has truly reached its end. Reusing or repurposing a gadget means not having to purchase a new product to replace it, which in turn means you’re reducing the resources and energy required to manufacture, package, ship and operate yet another new gadget.
Some other options for incorporating recycling into your greener gadget lifestyle include:
- Visit computer manufacturer websites to find out more about take-back, trade-in and recycling programs.
- Visit electronics trade-in websites to see if your still-working but unwanted gadgets can earn you cash or credit toward a new purchase.
- List and sell your unwanted gadgets using your local newspaper, Craigslist.org or an Internet auction site like eBay or eBid.
- Drop off your working but unwanted mobile phone at any major wireless carrier’s retail store so that it can be repurposed or properly recycled. (Don’t forget the charger and any accessories that you no longer want.)
- Find a reputable recycler of e-waste (e-cycler) that can properly dispose of broken or otherwise hopelessly useless electronics rather than throwing them in the trash.
Rethinking new greener gadget purchases
Rethinking new gadget purchases means considering products with expressly green features and benefits that have a smaller negative impact on the environment. For instance, a notebook computer is a greener choice than a desktop PC because notebooks require fewer resources to build, less packaging to ship and less energy (and cost) to operate.
More and more, the process of buying greener electronics is getting easier all the time. According to the Consumer Electronics Association, the good news is that more and more consumer electronics are now being produced that contain fewer toxic substances, offer greater energy efficiency and are easier to upgrade, repair and recycle.
Some actions you can take to rethink before you buy new gadgets include:
- Visit websites that evaluate, rate and list greener products by category, brand or other criteria:
- Stay up to date on how the top electronics companies rank against each other by visiting the Greenpeace Guide to Greener Electronics at greenpeace.org/electronics.
- Visit the environmental sections of company websites that manufacture the products you’re considering buying to find out about their greener products, programs, services and policies.
- Read news, features and reviews of the latest eco-friendly products by visiting green gadget blogs and consumer electronics websites such as:
Joe Hutsko is the author of Green Gadgets For Dummies (http://bit.ly/ggfd). His stories about consumer technology products and trends have appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, MSNBC.com, TV Guide, Fortune, Wired, Newsweek, Time, Engadget, TechCrunch.com and others.