Green gadgets which should save you money
Working on the assumption that you can really only control what you can measure, a really useful piece of kit is one that monitors your energy use. The simplest and cheapest type of energy monitor plugs into a mains socket and the kit you want to monitor plugs into the monitor. Your electricity consumption – either instantaneous or cumulative – is displayed on an LCD panel. The Energy Saving Power Meter (code ENER007) from Energenie costs just £15 including delivery.
A more comprehensive solution is offered by AlertMe. The SmartEnergy kit (£50 plus £5 P&P) comprises the following. First there’s the SmartEnergy hub that connects to a spare Ethernet port on your router and communicates with the power monitor(s) wirelessly. Then there’s the SmartMeter Reader which clips around the cable entering your electricity meter and communicates your home’s complete electricity consumption back to the SmartEnergy hub.
Information is display on the stand-alone SmartDisplay, also part of the kit, or you can access the information using either a smartphone App or via AlertMe's website. In addition to this basic kit, you might also consider adding one or more SmartPlugs (£25 each) which also communicate with the hub allowing you to also monitor the energy consumption of specific devices such as your PC or printer. In addition to your computing gear, you could try moving the SmartPlugs around to see, for example, how much it’s costing you and the planet to power all those devices that are left on standby that we hear so much about.
Seeing how much it’s costing you to keep kit turned on unnecessarily will probably provide the motivation to switch gear off when you’re not using it, but it’s all too easy to forget once the novelty wears off.
This is where equipment designed to automatically turn equipment off comes in handy. Energy Egg, for example (£40 from energy-egg.com, see our review) uses a motion detector to decide if a room is unoccupied, automatically turning gear off when it knows it’s not being used.
While this is a good idea for peripherals such as printers, speakers and external hard disks, we advise against using it on a PC which should always be shut down properly from Windows’ Start menu.
Bye Bye Standby Powerdown Strip (£20 from www.smarterproducts.co.uk), on the other hand, relies on you to turn off your PC but when you do that, will also turn off up to four peripherals that are attached to it. If you’d rather be in control yourself, though, the Conserve Switch from Belkin (£15 from Laptops Direct) is what you need. Again this is a device into which you plug your various peripherals but this time, those devices are all turned off when you press the button on a remote control device which can be up to 20 metres away.
There are several reasons why you might want to get rid of your old computing gear. Most drastically, it might have suffered a hard disk failure or the power supply has burned out and repair isn’t economically viable. Alternatively, although it served you well when you first bought it, your PC might no longer be adequate to cope with the demands of more modern software. On the other hand, perhaps your kit is still relatively new but your needs have changed and, as a result, you need a PC with a larger hard disk, more memory or a faster processor.
In this latter case you surely wouldn’t consider dumping your computer. The best option – from both a financial and an environmental viewpoint – would be to upgrade it, although this won’t always be possible.
For example, the motherboard dictates which types of processor you can install yet having to change both motherboard and the processor can become a major undertaking and an expensive one at that. If, when you’ve done your homework, you discover that your old PC either can’t be upgraded or it doesn’t seem a financially sensible option to do so, it will have some resale value so selling it could be the next best option.
If you don’t know anyone locally who’d like to take it off your hands, an online service such as eBay or Gumtree would be a good bet. Although you probably won’t get as good a price, if you want a more sure-fire way of selling you could consider CeX (Computer eXchange) which has both a web presence (uk.webuy.com) and almost 200 high street stores branded as Entertainment Exchange.
If your PC has died you almost certainly won’t be able to sell it and if it’s just run out of steam because it's old, its resale value will be poor. However, there are better things you can do with it than dump it in a skip full of general waste at your local household waste disposal centre. If you really have to take it to a disposal and recycling centre, do make sure that you deposit it in the area designated for electronic equipment.
Alternatively, you may find that the retailer from whom you buy your new computer will allow you to return your old equipment for recycling. According to the European Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment directive (WEEE), when you buy new equipment, retailers must either offer this service or make a financial contribution to the recycling facilities offered by local councils.
Ensuring that your old computer gear is recycled means that toxic substances don’t enter the environment and there’ll be some additional environmental benefit since using the various recovered substances will reduce consumption of the Earth’s rare resources.
If your old gear is still working, even though it’s under-powered, there is no shortage of charities who would welcome its donation. Many towns and cities have furniture charities that provide furniture and other household items to families in need but some won’t accept electrical items because they’re unable to ensure that they're safe to use.
Needless to say this won’t apply to the various charities who are set up specifically to find a good home for unwanted computers. We’re not going to make any recommendations since you’ll surely want to decide what sort of charity you want to support but a Google search for “computer charity” will give you plenty to choose from.
At one time, many of these charities would even accept non-working PCs which they would strip for spare parts to build new systems. Today, though, you’ll tend to find that charities will only take systems that are less than five years old and working. Bizarrely, according to one such charity, the European Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment only allows working equipment less than five years old to be reused, insisting that equipment which doesn’t adhere to these criteria is recycled.
Photo credit: Computer Aid International
Whichever means you choose to dispose of your old equipment, do bear in mind that you should protect yourself from confidential data on the hard disk falling into the wrong hands. Most respectable charities will undertake to securely wipe all data from the disk but if you’re disposing of your kit elsewhere, or even if you just want added peace of mind, make sure that you adequately wipe the disk first. Bear in mind, though, that erasing data normally doesn’t actually destroy the data and that all it requires is a simple un-delete utility to recover that deleted data. We suggest that take a look at our guide on how to effectively destroy data at using Eraser 6 and take the appropriate action.
While our main emphasis has been on disposing old computers, just the same applies to other electronic gear. From old phones to games consoles and so much more, you should first consider selling your gear or donating it to a charity, opting to recycle only as a last resort. Remember that there are plenty of companies who specialise in buying mobile phones and charities who are specifically on the look-out for them.
We’ve looked at ways of disposing of your old gear but there’s another option you might like to consider, namely using it yourself. For while your old kit might no longer have what it takes to act as your main PC, there are secondary purposes it could serve. Probably top of the list here is to use your old PC as a server of some sort, perhaps a home media server or a network attached storage (NAS) device. See our guide to Tonido for information on how to convert your old PC to a personal cloud server and yet another guide on how to utilise it as a NAS device.
Unless you really do want a cloud server or NAS device, though, this really isn’t a particularly environmentally friendly option because it’ll be one more piece of kit consuming energy. However, if you have already decided to go that route, it could make a lot more sense – both financially and environmentally – than disposing of it and buying a brand new piece of kit.