CONSUMER ELECTRONICS

All in one machines

What we’re talking about here are those all-singing, all-dancing machines which combine different functions found in many stand-alone electronic devices. So for example, we could be talking about a dvd-vcr-TV combo. Why would we recommend this? The very fact that only one device is accessing power at any one time is a reason. If you have separate TV, DVD, DVD recorder and a VCR all hooked up to the power supply and left on standby, you’re wasting a huge amount of electricity!

If you have to buy a Plasma screen, buy one with a built-in freeview and DVD player.

Try not to own a fax machine – the amount of wasted paper is incredible and in this age of email there is really no need to continue with this outdated mode of communication. If you’re buying a printer, try to get one which does all manner of jobs (excluding the fax option if possible!) including printing, scanning, photocopying.

Batteries

Most people know the feeling – you’ve had your Walkman playing all day and the batteries are run down, so you reach into the slot, extract the dead cells and ready your arm to fling them into the bin. But wait! Do not think your involvement with those batteries is at an end – these apparently useless objects still contain highly corrosive and toxic substances. Unfortunately at the moment there is no consensus on how to deal with these, either on the production side or the disposal side.

Therein lies the problem, and our recommendation would be for you to use rechargeable batteries. Buy these rechargeable batteries from retailers that are willing to accept them back from you at the end of their life cycle to have them recycled, whether as single batteries or packs.

Try to steer clear of button cells, especially those which contain mercuric oxide cells. Lithium batteries should also be avoided, if you can find a silver oxide option then go for that one.

Computers

With the ever increasing involvement in our lives that computers have, they are becoming more and more important in our everyday existences. Gone are they days when we would only use a computer to type up a letter or calculate some data on a spreadsheet. We now use computers to talk to our friends, to buy everything from cars to groceries; we use them to find love, to find jobs, to find old friends; we use our computers as a primary business tool. However as most people are aware, technological advances in computing happen every minute, meaning that if you buy the latest bit of kit this week, by next Friday it’ll be obsolete.

What you should be aware of when buying a computer

Think about the process that is involved in making these machines. Often in the rush to build as many as possible in the shortest time possible corners are cut with material quality and working conditions.

As waste products, computers represent a serious health and environmental risk. It is estimated that ¾ of all computers are stockpiled in attics, cellars and office storage cupboards, toxic time bombs containing compounds such as brominated flame retardants and materials like lead, cadmium and mercury.

How can you act?
In the past, much of the intricate work that went into building the components that, when combined, make up the computer as we find it, was done in the US. Problems were found in health and safety investigations which highlighted the dangers associated with semiconductor product – it’s uses more toxic gases than any other industry – and so computer manufacturers have been moving their most dangerous and heavily polluting stage of production to Latin America, where wages and environmental standards are lower.

The Central Processing Unit (CPU) is the clearest indicator of a computer’s age – for example just two or three years ago the fastest you could get was a Pentium 4 at 2.6ghz or thereabouts, now we’re talking about dual, quad or even eight-core processors which leave the old overheating P4s shuffling along in the distance.

You don’t have to maintain this trend – as consumers the manufacturers live and die by your spending trends. If you refuse to keep buying the latest and greatest, or are happy to content yourselves with second-hand branded computers which have been reconditioned with new peripherals, you will help to drive a change that has been necessary for a very long time!

We urge you to consider upgrading your existing machine or to buy a reconditioned machine instead of buying a brand new one.

Printers

When choosing printers there are many factors to consider. Try to buy one with a ‘power-save’ or ‘economy saver’ function which puts the printer into sleep mode when not in use. Unless you are producing professional documents, use both sides of paper when printing as the environment is slightly more important than aesthetics.

The environmental impact of printers come mostly through their use and disposal – so try to go for machines which comply with energy efficiency standards such as TCO.

When disposing of any computer hardware, not just printers, there comes a difficulty in knowing what to do. Many people have, since computers became general consumable goods, upgraded once or more and as a result have unused computer hardware just lying around in storage. Visit www.wasteonline.org.uk to find out how best to deal with this potential menace. You may well find it worthwhile to contact your local council as they will no doubt have some sort of advice regarding the best way to dispose of technological waste.

The law changed on 1st July 2007 with regard to Waste Electronic and Electrical Equipment (WEEE). This covers any item that is powered by mains electricity and/or battery. Producers, manufacturers and retailers are now legally responsible for recycling their old electrical items.

Until the paperless office becomes a reality, we will have to think differently about our approach to technology. Yes it is there for improved efficiency and convenience in our daily lives, but we must respect it and pay more attention to our actions. By thinking more about what we are doing each and every day and not simply acting out of habit, we stand to live more fulfilling lives and not be blundering ignoramuses.

TV & Video

Each year we dispose/discard 2.5 million TV sets. 2.5 million! These are either sent to the landfill or incinerated, representing a huge loss of resources and the creation of toxic substances which are very hard to dispose of.

What is the cause of such waste? Why are we disposing of TV sets? If we’re simply getting rid of them because they’re no longer the top of the range and we want to have a nice shiny new one, then don’t just throw your old model away, give it to charity or sell it on Ebay! If it’s broken, give it to a local civic amenity site where it can be dismantled for scrap and recycled, not simply destroyed without any further future benefit for anyone.

TVs and videos are known to emit non-ionising radiation over a range of frequencies, and while no proven adverse health links exist, the issue is contentious because while there remains the possibility that watching the box can be harmful people do not want to expose themselves or others (especially children) to the risk of future ailments. To reduce the risk, try to sit a reasonable distance away (6 feet, where possible) from the screen and turn the device off at the mains when you’re done with it.

Good TV use guide

  • If you aren’t a television buff, buy second hand! Why waste your money and all those resources that go into buying a new one when you won’t even use it that often.
  • Switch off the TV when you’re not using it – do not leave it on standby as this eats into the electricity supply. If concern for the environment isn’t a motivating factor, perhaps a reduction in your energy bills will spur you into action.
  • Try not to sit right in front of the television. It won’t run away!
  • LCD screens are actually easier to recycle than conventional screens, so go for those when possible.
  • Try to steer clear of Plasma TVs – a report by Deloitte suggests that these can consume up to 3 times the amount of energy that a standard conventional television uses! That’s ridiculous, considering the only improvement you’re getting is a slight improvement in picture quality and bit more space in the living room.
  • If your equipment breaks down, see if it can be repaired but if it’s not possible to do so then make sure it gets recycled instead of destroyed.