Be as green as you can be

Caring about the environment doesn’t mean you can’t have the latest technology

It’s kind of a break from the traditional article that gets published on TME, but I’d like to take the time to talk about how modern day technology can impact on our environment.

Over the last 20 years we’ve gone through a global revolution when it comes to personal computing and consumer electronics.  Yeah it may make our lives easier and more enjoyable, but what about the ethics of it all?

Think back to 1992, if you can.  Most people didn’t have a Windows PC in the home, now 75% of homes do.  In fact, I personally have three in my home.  We also have multiple TV’s, games consoles, Blu-ray and media players, stereos, the list goes on.  But what is the price of all of this?

I’m not talking literally.  As technology has worked its way into our homes, it’s actually gotten cheaper.  In fact in 1994 my family paid £1300 for an IBM PC, these days you can pick up a cheap Windows PC for around £200.

What I’m talking about is the environmental and ethical implications of the “western approach” to technology.  Generally there has been a trend towards replacing technology out of convenience rather than necessity.  Think about it; did you really need that new smartphone, or did you just really, really want it?

Not only does this affect your pocket, but it also has an astounding affect on the environment and those living in developing nations.

Don’t believe me?  Take a look at this…

These are images that have been taken by Greenpeace as part of an investigation into the ethical disposal and recycling of electronic waste from western countries.  The first image features a television that was tagged in the UK before disposal.  It eventually ended up in Nigeria where it was broken up and burned before the valuable metals inside were recovered and sold on.

This is a practice that happens throughout Africa and Asia.  Huge piles of disposed electronic items are set alight, burning away the fibers and plastics and leaving behind valuable metals such as copper.  The process releases huge amounts of toxins into the atmosphere, polluting the surrounding air, soil and water supplies.  If that wasn’t bad enough, children are often used to sift through the resulting waste and pick out the valuable parts.

This process needs to stop.  It’s as simple as that.  How can you help?  Well, here’s a few ideas.

Use your electronics for as long as you can

Who cares if your smartphone is not the latest and greatest?  Does it allow you to do everything that you want?  Yes, new technologies will always have new and exciting features, but do you really need them?  If you can bear it, try and keep hold of your electronic devices for longer than you normally would.  Doing so will protect your wallet and the environment at the same time.

With computers, think about upgrading your existing model rather than replacing it with a shiny new one.  You’ll likely be able to get a few years more use out of it, and you won’t be throwing a whole bunch of toxins and metals onto the scrap heap.

Of course, if your device is lost, stolen, damaged or broken then replacing it is not something you should feel guilty about, but buying new technology does allow you to think about your own green goals.

Be green

All electronic devices will show how much power they use on the packaging or on the device itself.  Sometimes they’ll actually show a value for power in Watts, but other times they’ll just show the voltage and current.  Don’t let that confuse you though, power can be worked out by multiplying the values for voltage (in volts) and current (in Amps).  As an example, a laptop that is powered by 19V at 3.6A would be drawing 68.4W of power.

Take account of how much power a device draws when you’re looking at making a new purchase.  If you have a choice between two or three models and can’t decide on one, pick the greenest one.

You should also consider a device which can be completely turned off, rather than being placed in standby.  If you can’t find a suitable device that does have a “hard-off” mode, try and ensure that you turn it off at the wall outlet when you are not using it.  There are a few exceptions to this; it’s no good turning off your alarm clock, but you’d be surprised at what you can turn off if you give it some thought.

Finally, try to make use of rechargeable batteries where you can identify a use for them.  These days most devices feature internal batteries, but there are plenty of devices out there that use good old fashioned AA’s (I’m looking at you, Xbox controller).  Alkaline batteries are incredibly harmful for the environment and we should all be making an effort to reduce the amount that we use.  It’ll also be a lot better for your pocket to use rechargeable units; yeah they cost a little more to purchase, but they cost pennies to charge up and last for thousands of cycles.

Buy ethically

There are a few companies out there who actually make a point of ensuring that their products are produced to be as green as possible.  In fact, some of them have strict policies on environmentalism and publish their findings in public reviews.  Of course, you’d need to do some comparative research in order to work out if their figures are a good thing, but having the information available to you is a good start.

That being said, a number of major manufacturers, including Apple and HP, have been heavily criticized for the working conditions employed of some of their suppliers, such as Foxconn.  Unfortunately most suppliers like to keep the details of their manufacturing process quiet, so it can be difficult to work out who is guilty of what, but a quick search on the Internet should let you know if a company has at least been accused of any human rights infringements.

Don’t throw things away

If you do decide to replace a working device, don’t make the mistake of throwing the old one away.  It may not meet your requirements any more, but I’d bet any money you like that someone out there would find a use for it.  Even if it isn’t functional, it may still be useful in repairing another device or for salvage of parts.

Even if you think it isn’t worth something, there will always be someone out there who will pay money for it.  Not only does this help the environment, it’ll also give you a bit of extra cash to spend.

My favorite items to recycle are chargers for devices I no longer have.  You might look at it and think that it’s worthless, but there’s bound to be someone out there who owned the same device and is in need of a charger for it.  Try putting it on an auction site, or on a charitable community site such as Freecycle.

If you absolutely must throw out your old devices, do it responsibly.  In the UK we have excellent council-run facilities for waste disposal where they will ensure that your device is recycled or disposed of in an ethical manner.

PLEASE do not just throw your old items out with your household waste.  Make the journey to your local recycling center and dispose of it there.

Waste disposal and energy usage are two of the biggest issues that we face as a species.  Greenpeace have cited that around 800 shipping containers of scrap material are delivered to African nations every single day.  This is way too much.

By using your devices for longer, and giving consideration when you do choose to replace them, you can help to ensure that the amount of waste produced, and energy used, is kept at a lower level.

Thank you for taking the time to read this article.

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