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Fast & Easy Info

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  • Just when you thought you had the whole recycling "thing" under control, it turns out you have to add computers and all your other electronic gear to the mix. Why? Because "e-waste" is the fastest growing portion of our waste stream.
  • E-waste is nasty. About 40% of the heavy metals (lead, mercury, cadmium) in landfills comes from tossed electronic equipment.
  • Less than 10% of discarded computers are being recycled. The rest are being thrown into the trash. Massachusetts has banned computer equipment from its landfills, and other states may follow.
  • Computer recycling programs make it easier for you to donate or recycle your computer; you can recycle printer toner cartridges and other office supplies, often at office supply stores.
  • Energy-efficient computers are also available. Over its lifetime, ENERGY STAR qualified electronic equipment in a single home office (e.g., computer, monitor, printer, and fax) can save enough electricity to light your entire home for more than 4 years.
  • Women buy 14% more electronics than men. We can use our consumer clout to increase consumer recycling rates, encourage manufacturers to make computers more recyclable, and favor manufacturers who do the best job of minimizing the pollution associated with producing computers.

Dollars and Sense Options

  • When you get a new computer, don't throw the old one away. Recycle it or donate it. See " Where Can I Donate or Recycle My Old Computer and Other Electronic Products?" by the US EPA to find a location near you. Share the Technology puts old computers directly in the hands of charities and non-profits.
  • Before you donate your computer, clean it up. Read these " Ten Tips for Donating a Computer" from TechSoup.org.
  • The CNET Trade-in Center offers cash for your gadgets and gear, giving you a little extra money to upgrade to that cool new product you have your eye on. Not only are you helping yourself, CNET donates 10 percent of each trade-in's value to the school of your choice.

Most computer manufacturers now offer some kind of recycling program for their own equipment. Before you buy a new computer, get clear on how you'll be able to recycle it (e.g., Dell lets you recycle their computers for free; IBM's Asset Recovery Solutions program buys back certain equipment it thinks still has resale value; Hewlett-Packard may charge a small fee). Pay-for-disposal recycling isn't limited to major equipment manufacturers. Local recyclers, whom you can find in your yellow pages, will pick up unwanted equipment for a fee, then hopefully dispose of it according to state and federal regulations.

  • Explore lease and take-back options (you buy computing "service" rather than a computer product"). Dell and Gateway offer leasing programs. Dell, Hewlett-Packard and some others take back some used equipment.
  • Choose operating systems and software you can upgrade so you don't have to buy an entire new machine in two or three years.
  • Ask for hardware you can upgrade. Again, can you extend the life of the machine?
  • Make sure the memory is easy to expand. Demand "spare tire" software and licensing, pre-loaded to allow for simple reuse of hardware. Can you replace the hard drive with a larger one if necessary?
  • Resist the new bells & whistles. Just because there's something new on the market doesn't mean you have to buy it. Always evaluate new options in terms of your own true needs, not what the marketers want you to need.

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For Your Shopping List:


EcoMall can help you find "green" computer ribbons, printer cartridges, and recycled paper.

Recycled Office Products has a complete line of products made from recycled and remanufactured materials, including desk pad calendars, sticky notes, air bubble mailers, pencils and paper clips.

Hampton Toner & Ink recycles ink cartridges - you mail them an empty printer cartridge; they'll return it to you filled. You can also recycle used ink cartridges at Office Depot and Staples.

Energy Star equipment listings will give you efficient equipment options and help you find the store nearest you if you'd like to make a purchase.

In My House

We have a full office set up at home, complete with desktop computer, printer, fax machine, and phone. We have two additional PCs. Each family member has a cell phone. There are also assorted MP3 players or iPods, cameras, and DVD players. Virtually any equipment we buy at this point that's available with an Energy Star rating is what we choose. In the past, we've donated our old PCs to non-profit organizations or the local school; we also have a list-serv in our neighborhood that enables an active exchange of goods in the community. We've also sold or given away outdated electronic gear at yard sales. I find it extremely frustrating that our computer equipment goes out of fashion so quickly. Our monitor is perfectly functional, for example. It just doesn't happen to be a flat screen. The kids are lobbying heavily to replace it simply because "it's not cool." Sometimes I wish there'd be a design and innovation moratorium for a while. I don't need any more bells and whistles on my computer for a few years!