28 February 2009

greening gadgetry

Heralding a social awakening about consumer choices, proper disposal methods of e-wastes and hazardous materials are the need of the hour. As electronic goods personify the ‘use and throw’ phenomenon, there is a direct link between consumer psyche and marketing of electronics. Even within the world of electronics, there are the good guys and the bad guys. There are manufacturers that are constantly pushing their energy ratings and EPEAT ratings beyond whatever is deemed necessary.

According to the EPEAT website it is a system to "help purchasers in the public and private sectors evaluate, compare and select desktop computers, notebooks and monitors based on their environmental attributes". It also "provides the opportunity for manufacturers to secure market recognition for efforts to reduce the environmental impact of its products"

This kind of rating system evaluates not just energy usage of the electronic item but also over-all environmental impact from manufacturing to disposal . Most of the electronic items are made up of plastic, various metals and dangerous compounds like mercury, beryllium, silicon etc when not disposed of properly leach into the soil and affect ground water. For example, cathode ray tubes (CRTs) in computers contain heavy metals, such as lead, barium and cadmium, which can be very harmful to health if they enter the water system. These materials can cause damage to human nervous and respiratory systems. Flame retardant plastics, used in electronics casings, can release particles that damage human endocrine functions. Apart from this electronics contain metals like aluminium which are energy intensive to mine but can recycled indefinitely.

Several cities in most countries advocate recycling of electronics and electrical equipment, find out if your city has a dedicated WEEE center to drop off your old gadgets. When you buy new gadgets look for an EPEAT rating apart from energy star ratings. Most reputable brands follow the EPEAT guidelines including Dell, Sony Ericsson, Nokia, HP, IBM, Toshiba etc. You can find this information online or on company websites. Additionally you can also check out Greenpeace's guide to green electronics.

Electronics go a long way in making our life easier but each year 250 million computers are disposed in the US alone. If you have old cellphones lying around, send them to be recycled - you are simply hoarding materials than can be reused. In some instances, your mobile phone company will recycle our old phone for free. Take advantage of exchange offers when changing your phone. You can also donate your phone to a worthy cause. Similarly, you can donate your old computer to similar causes. There are currently several computers and laptops on the market where the plastic chassis is replaced by wood or bamboo. Use the gadgets you have for as long as you can. Reduce 'vampire power' which is is the energy used by devices when they're plugged in but not turned on. Prevent wasted energy first by unplugging any devices not in use or that are fully charged. Additionally use rechargeable batteries for your electronic goods which further reduces landfill wastes.

Wastage of resources by using electronics can be prevented with a little care. Thoughts I leave you with - 20-40: Number of gadgets the average user of electronics keeps on stand by, that suck up energy even when turned off. Televisions, computers, electric toothbrushes, phones, radios are more all use up energy and money when they aren’t even in use. 1%: The total percent of carbon dioxide emissions emitted each year from devices left on stand by.

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