Best Ways to Buy, Use, and Dispose of your Computer
There’s no shortage of energy to be saved in the world of computers. Today almost 90 million U.S. homes have at least one computer, and about 65 million new ones are shipped to homes and businesses every year. Computers and their attachments (“peripherals”) vary widely in their hunger for electricity. An efficient laptop, for instance, uses only 20 percent as much energy as some desktops. Big potential savings are also available to those who know how to set their computer “preferences” and make liberal use of the on/off switch.
- Consider an upgrade. Perhaps you don’t need to lay out the cash for a new computer just yet. Maybe refurbishing your old machine would give you the performance boost you need.
- Turn on sleep or standby. Depending on the type of computer and peripherals and the cost of electricity, it’s possible to save up to $200 a year simply by setting your computer to go into “sleep” or “standby” mode when you aren’t using it. If there is more than one computer left on at full power in a household, even greater savings are possible.
- Use the on/off switch. It is not true that turning computers off damages them, but it is true that turning off computers saves a lot of money.
- Power down the peripherals. Turn off the printer and other peripherals when you are not using them as well, and if they have a standby or sleep feature, use it. If you plug everything into a surge protector, or “power strip,” you can use it to turn everything off at once. Remember that many peripherals, printers especially, can be big energy hogs.
When shopping, look for
- Energy efficiency. If you decide that you need a new computer, printer, scanner, or all-in-one device, have a look at the government’s Energy Star site, which identifies the most energy-efficient models and allows you to compare their energy usage.
Think about how much speed you need. In the case of printers, the faster they are, the more energy they use. The slowest printers may use only 15% as much energy on standby power as the fastest. If you really don’t need a printer that spews out 45 pages a minute, settle for a slower, but less energy-demanding model.
…to your wallet
Buying an efficient computer and running it wisely can save you money year after year. Start with the up to $200 a year you can save by using “sleep” or “standby,” and know you’re adding a coin or two each time you turn the machine completely off.
…to the Earth
Wonderful as they are, computers are not clean, post-industrial products. In fact their manufacture and use puts out as much greenhouse gas as all the world’s airplanes. The simple act of recycling your old computer keeps not only the lead and mercury out of our air and water, but (in older computers) cadmium and brominated flame retardants. An excellent guide to recycling is provided by a national source of recycling information, Earth911. Comprehensive listings and advice for electronics recycling are also available at an EPA site.
- Thinking a screen saver saves energy. It doesn’t. It saves the screen from having an image burned onto its surface–which is no longer a problem for modern computers.
- Forgetting about the old computer. More than 1.5 million tons of computers and peripherals are being sent to the dump each year, and only 15% to 20% of this material is being recycled. Plus, a lot of the recycled material is being sent to countries with poor safety standards, which expose recycling workers to the serious hazards mentioned above.
- If you are not using your computer’s sleep or standby option yet, go to the “preferences” menu and enable it. That move tells the computer to power down after a certain number of minutes of inaction at the keyboard or mouse. (You decide exactly how many minutes when you set the preference.) Don’t worry–the computer will quickly wake up again when you hit a key.
- If you are buying a new computer, remember to recycle your old one. Fortunately, it’s easy to learn how to either recycle electronic equipment safely or donate it to organizations that will make good use of it. For information on places closest to you, an excellent guide is provided by a national source of recycling information, Earth911. Comprehensive listings and advice for electronics recycling are also available at an EPA site.