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Are You Computer "Green?"

Copyright 1992 Don Rittner, MUG NEWS SERVICE

More than 75 million Americans own a personal computer, and this number is rapidly climbing as computers become more affordable. Many more use computers in their workplace (more than 40 million Intel-based PCs and seven million laser printers use 18.2 billion kilowatt/hours of electricity per year).

Most people think of computers as relatively pollution-free, but the act of computing is not. Here are a few tips to help make your computing a bit more environmentally gentle.

The Computer — If you work in an office where there are many terminals with monitors turned on, turn down (or even off) your heat in the room during winter months. Enough heat comes from the monitors to keep the room warm. If you work at home or with one computer at a time, turn off the monitor if you can when not using it, which will save a fair amount of power. This is also a good idea for servers and other machines which stay on all the time.

Electronic Mail — If your office does not have your computers networked together, do it! The use of electronic mail for inter-office correspondence can save a tremendous amount of paper. American offices last year generated more than 775 billion pages of paper – that equals 14 million tons of paper a year, or 238 million trees.

Computer Magazines — Don’t throw away old computer magazines. You can recycle them by donating them to your local public library, user groups, doctor’s office, health clubs, or even laundromats. Think of it as educating the masses.

Floppy disks — Do you have 3.5" floppies that just don’t hold data any more? Well, don’t throw them away. They make great coasters for your morning coffee! [Several years ago the staff at American Demographics Magazine in Ithaca, New York had a permanent exhibit of fancifully decorated floppy disks whose days as data carriers were long over. -Adam]

Disk Storage — Don’t buy disk storage boxes. If you or a friend has a newborn child (or know someone who has), the rectangular "baby wipes" boxes make great disk storage containers. You can fit about 50 disks in a box. Soak off the labels, and you can write on the box using a magic marker.

Printers — If you use a dot matrix or laser printer there are a few things you can do. Be sure to use recycled paper (and envelopes and labels) in both types of printers, and remember to use the blank back side of sheets that you print as drafts. There is nothing wrong with using the second side of the sheet, and this can cut your consumption of paper by as much as half. Proofread your work before you print! Most wasted paper is from stupid typographical errors.

If you use cloth ribbons in your dot matrix printer, you can usually re-ink those ribbons. In fact, you can get up to 15-20 re-inks per ribbon and the quality of the print is usually darker than newer ribbons. This also reduces the cost per ribbon. Many computer user groups have re-inkers and charge about $1 to re-ink (versus $5-$15 per new ribbon). Many people have had luck refilling ink cartridges for ink-jet printers, but the manufacturers of those printers don’t generally recommend that you do that.

For laser printer users, many toner cartridge manufacturers now recycle used cartridges and donate money to environmental organizations. Some even pay you, and most pay for the UPS shipping as well. Also, there are companies that will recharge your toner cartridge for considerably less than the cost of a new one ($40 compared to $90). Considering that more than 98% of the 15 million cartridges sold in 1991 ended up in landfills, and only a fraction recycled, you can see how important it is to recycle those toner cartridges. [Also consider using Toner Tuner, discussed above, to extend the life of your toner cartridges. -Adam]

Toner Cartridge Recycling

[This is probably not an exhaustive list, but it’s a good start.]

Apple Clean Earth Campaign — 800/776-2333 — Donates $0.50 to National Wildlife Federation and Nature Conservancy per cartridge. Call them and they send you a prepaid UPS shipping label.

Canon Clean Earth Campaign — 800/962-2708 — Canon has the same deal as Apple.

Dataproducts Imaging Supplies Division — 800/423-5095 — Dataproducts will pay you $10 for each Canon SX cartridge plus the shipping if you send 28 or more cartridges at a time.

Lexmark Operation Resource — 800/848-9894 — Recycles cartridges for the six IBM Laser Printer models in its 4019 and 4029 series. Lexmark will send you a postage paid container. They give the returned cartridges to a workshop for the handicapped which makes money by selling the parts to recycling companies.

Qume Corp. — 800/421-4326 — Large organizations can designate an employee fund or charity to receive the money from their recycling effort.

Recycleneur Institute — 305/539-0701 — For every used cartridge collected from local organization, they donate $2 to a scholarship fund to help entrepreneurs break into the recycling business. The institute will mail you a list of cartridge recycling companies in your area.

Don Rittner is the author of "EcoLinking – Everyone’s Guide to Online Environmental Information," published by Peachpit Press.

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