Going Green with Your Computer

Photo courtesy of Flickr: Chad Kainz

In the United States, computers have become a part of mainstream life. While not everyone owns a computer, many people not only have one at home but rely on it for many of their activities, such as homework, research, banking, or shopping. Aside from personal use, businesses also depend on computers in order to function properly. While they have made life more convenient, computers also have a negative impact in terms of the environment. Computers consume a significant amount of energy, and as a result, they require the use of fossil fuels. When no longer of use, they also become e-waste that can be difficult to dispose of safely. This is a surmountable problem, however, as people can take steps to make their computer usage more "green," or environmentally friendly.

Energy-Saving Tips

Going green with one's computer begins with learning how to conserve energy while the computer is in use or even when it is sitting idle. One of the top ways to conserve energy is to turn the computer off when it is not in use. People should shut down their computers if they will not be in use for two hours or longer. Monitors and other peripherals should also be shut down when not in use for lengthy periods. For example, after 20 minutes of inactivity, turn off monitors. For times when computers will be inactive for less than two hours, there isn't any need to turn them off completely. Computers come with features that are designed to save power. An example of this is the "sleep" mode on desktops. The "sleep" feature partially powers down the computer after a predetermined amount of inactive time. While in sleep mode, the computer pauses, but it will start back up again where it left off when restarted. During the time it is in a "paused" state, it will typically consume no more than two watts of energy. Putting a computer in "hibernate" mode makes the computer save its memory to the hard drive, enabling it to shut down completely and use no energy at all. When the user restarts the machine, it will reload everything into memory and pick up right where it left off. Avoiding common misconceptions can also save energy. Often, people mistake screen-savers for an energy-saving option. This is a false belief and actually uses more energy than it saves. Instead, set the screen to go blank after a specified period of inactivity.

Printing Tips

Printers often go hand in hand with computers, particularly in an office setting. Although they may not receive as much constant use as a computer, printers do consume their fair share of energy. Heeding a few helpful tips can help people stay green when using their printers, whether at work or at home. People should always consider alternatives to printing before actually using the printer. If an actual physical copy is not necessary, consider reading the document on the computer or laptop, saving it on a memory stick to keep a copy, or emailing a copy to whoever is in need of it. If a document must be printed, set the printer so that it uses less ink, paper, and energy. To save paper, print on both sides instead of one. Conserve ink by adjusting the settings so that black ink is used instead of color. Using the right font can also save ink, as some fonts use more ink than others. Select fonts such as Garamond or Century Gothic versus commonly used fonts such as Arial. Naturally, printer type is also important. A laser printer uses more energy to print than a high-quality ink-jet printer, for example. When it comes to home printers, turn them off when not in use. Businesses should shut printers down at the end of every day.

Recycling Computers and Parts

A big question for many people is what to do with computers when they are no longer functional or when they become obsolete. Computers contain metals and carcinogens that can negatively impact the environment and human health. Improper disposal can cause these substances to leach into water and soil and add to landfills that are already overly filled. People can safely dispose of their computers and unwanted computer parts through legal and safe outlets. Look for e-waste pickup programs held by schools, churches, and other organizations. Some stores offer trade-in promotions and may even provide a discount on newer computers if the older ones are brought in. There are also reputable reuse organizations that will accept old computers. Manufacturers also have recycling or reuse programs available and are a trustworthy and reliable outlet to get rid of an unwanted computer. The best way to determine the legitimacy of recyclers in general is to ask questions such as what happens to the computers and their parts. A legitimate organization will be happy to answer, where a suspect one may refuse.

Other Green Tips for Computer Usage

When it comes to green computing, there are many additional ways that people can do their part. Computers are often connected to accessories such as speakers that can be turned off when not in use. Using smaller and/or flat-screen monitors can also be helpful. Proper care can potentially help extend the life of a computer. Keep it in a location so that there is good ventilation. Regularly check for and clean dust from vents with compressed air. When considering a new computer, look into upgrading the current one if possible. In some instances, more memory or a bigger hard drive may be enough to improve a computer's performance. When using a computer at home, there's no need for bright lights, so stay green by keeping lights at a comfortably low level. Keeping other computer-related devices to a minimum is also helpful. For example, instead of using an external hard drive for media storage, use an off-site cloud-based storage system instead.

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