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Computer technology changes so rapidly that many consumers find themselves replacing their units every few years. Buying a refurbished machine is a good way to cut down on the environmental impacts of computer manufacture and disposal; energy-efficient models save resources in the long run. Many manufacturers offer take-back programs for recycling old machines. For your existing computer, consider a smart power strip that will help save energy.


CompuwasteOne of the most important things you can do is to dispose of your old equipment in a responsible manner. DON'T just put it in the trash. To help you figure out what to do, a number of technology companies, government agencies, environmental groups have teamed up with the online marketplace, eBay, to sponsor the Rethink Initiative. The Rethink website provides comprehensive info on how to responsibly donate, sell, or dispose of your old computer and other electronic equipment. However, if you have a real dinosaur on your hands and just want to know where to recycle that obsolete gadgetry, the Earth911 site can lead you directly to recycling centers within your zip code.

    Takeback Programs

    That old computer may be worth more than you think. Some stores have set up exchange programs whereby customers get money for trading in their old devices. The environment also profits: takeback helps create a market for used electronics and their parts. Places that accept takebacks include EcoNewOnline*, Costco*,
    TechForward buyback plan, My Bone Yard Electronics Takeback, and RECONNECT - a partnership of Dell and Goodwill.

    *Certified Zero Landfill, No Export policy so the electronics don't end up being dumped in Asia and Africa where salvagers take apart toxic components by hand.

    Energy Efficient Computers

    epeat logoA useful acronym to know in terms of computer energy efficiency is EPEAT (Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool), a voluntary standard managed by a non-profit that registers computers and monitors that have met requirements for energy efficiency and low-toxicity, among other environmental criteria. EPEAT registered computers are required to meet ENERGY STAR requirements.

    Also, check out Consumer Reports’ ratings for the highest rated models in terms of energy efficiency, and the Energy Star Store Locator to find Energy Star computers online or at a store near you.

    Smart Power Strips

    It's important to turn off your computer's power strip; otherwise its "phantom load,,"or electricity sucked by a device while it is switched off but still plugged in, is just pouring energy down the drain. If you have a hard time remembering to flip the switch in the home or office, consider using a power strip that will "remember" for you. The EcoStrip attaches to your computer's USB port. When the computer is turned off, the device turns off everything else hooked up to the power strip.

    Buy Used or Refurbished

    Generally, refurbished computers perform well and are a fraction of the cost of a new computer (usually 30-50% off the new price). There are also many online and local used computer dealers. Make sure when purchasing from an online retailer or on Ebay you confirm the seller's guarantees and warranty options.

    Why It's Important

    The solvents, gases, acids, flame retardants, plastics, and heavy metals that go into making computers can be extremely harmful to both people and the environment if handled improperly. Decades of unsafe use and disposal have resulted in elevated cancer rates, neurological disorders, miscarriages and severe birth defects among workers in the high tech industry and their families.

    Microchip production is resource intensive, involving more energy, water, fossil fuels, toxic chemicals, and elemental gases than any industry in history. Because computers become obsolete so rapidly, the industry also generates a lot of waste. The National Safety Council predicts that in the U.S. between 315 million and 680 million computers will be put to rest within the next few years. The waste will contain more than 4 billion pounds of plastic, 1 billion pounds of lead, 1.9 million pounds of cadmium, 1.2 million pounds of chromium, and nearly 400,000 pounds of mercury. Less than 10% of outdated computer products are refurbished or recycled.

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