Articles in the product life span - Page 2 Category

Used Electronics that lie idle

I was shocked to discover that each year millions of tons of used gadgets wind up in a bottom draw after only a relatively short time of use.

There’s no escaping that we live in a vibrant consumer economy, and this is no bad thing – those of us who desire today’s most popular gadgets help drive the economy forward.

Gadgets that end up in your bottom drawThe problem is that electronics products which still have significant value and usability are finding their way into the bottom draw instead of being returned to the marketplace for resale to someone who is perfectly happy with last years model. After all, it works perfectly well and does the same job.

Instead, a mountain of unused electronics lay idle, eventually becoming too old to be of any use to a potential buyer.

        Imagine you bought a new car and left the old one sitting in your garage until it’s value diminished to nothing.

In reality you’d sell it – because the sooner you do the more value you’ll get – this is just as true for gadgets like iPods, cell phones, digital cameras, console games and computers – more and more of these products end up in the bottom draw when they could be sold and re-used before their time is up.

eBay has gone a long way in expanding the second hand market and makes it easier for consumers to sell on their used electronics. But its impact has been relatively small compared to the rising tide of productivity within the electronics industry.

Consumers should be able to sell on their used electronics as readily as they can buy the upgrade – like a car dealership who’ll readily accept your old car in the same transaction. It spares you the hassle of selling it yourself.

So shouldn’t the electronics industry work in the same way?

Well, to some extent it does -  GameStop for example, will accept your old gaming console and games as trade ins. However, they give you a faction of the amount you could have gotten on eBay or Craigslist. But not everyone enjoys trawling through the buyers and sellers trying to get a deal – some of us are just too busy – or lazy.

If trading in was made easier, and fairer in terms of the value you received, fewer electronics would end up in a bottom draw. The sad truth is that if you don’t get intrinsic pleasure from the eBay experience and you don’t feel the profit is worth your time and energy, your old gadgets will end up in the bottom draw for some time to come.

Does this iwaste belong to you?

WALL-E highlights the problem of electronics e-waste

Wall-E on an e-waste dumpWALL-E is one of the better animations to come out of the Disney Pixar creative collaboration.

It’s a heart warming tale of WALL-E, a Waste Allocation Load Lifter – Earth Class unit. The lovable robot manages to stay functional after 700 years of service by recycling bits of other WALL-E robots which have perished over the centuries of cleaning up the Earth.

A thousand years earlier in the 21st Century, the Buy ‘N’ Large corporation had (miraculously) taken over every single service on Earth, including the government. They are to blame for the rampant over production and subsequent pollution that ensues – turning Earth into a wasteland of e-waste and junk – void of humans, who generations later, remain living lethargically on a space cruiser many light years away.

The Buy ‘N’ Large corporation is a more acceptable bad guy to portray than the dozens of consumer brands who benefit from today’s throw away society.

A more realistic landscape (the one we see today in Asia) would be the mountains of e-waste filled with broken Sony plasma screens, Panasonic DVD players and colored iPod shells. This later imagery would never have gotten passed Disney’s largest stock holder.

The real message to be taken from this summer’s No. 1 blockbuster is that most of what makes up e-waste today is non recyclable and has absolutely nowhere to go.

    only about 12% of the e-waste we produce is recycled. The rest will joint the mountains of e-waste which one day might challenge the Himalayas.


We see the pictures of Chinese villagers picking their way through circuit boards and recovering the poisonous alloys and by-product, but this only makes up about 12% of the junk that we ship to them. The rest stays strewn across the countryside on e-waste dumps which closely resemble the make believe ones depicted in WALL-E.

If the electronics we produce today are largely non recyclable, why is the drive towards recycling them so prevalent, when a drive to re-use them or make them last longer goes relatively unheard?

Owner of an e-waste dump in China

So long as the green back is more powerful than the green lobby, more funds will be driven towards green perception than green reality – The burying of the National Computer Recycling Act is testament to this. Only when every bit of electronics is recyclable (and this includes Xbox, Playstation, Wii too) will we be able to start slowing the acceleration of e-waste dumping.

Until the Utopian vision of green electronics magically appears – which will be decades away at best – consumers need to look at other ways to lower the rising tide of e-waste: Buy a pre-owned or used computer, digital camera, cell phone or any electronics device when you can.

When you buy something new you add to the e-waste pile – when you buy used you don’t.

Sell pre-owned or used as well. If you don’t use your old computer, DVD player, cell phone, digital camera or camcorder any more, trade it in or sell it pre-owned  or used so that someone else will buy it from you instead of buying it new and adding to e-waste themselves.

For additional trust, buy used off of a pre-owned retailer who is willing to give a one year warranty on your purchase. That way, you have as much confidence as buying new.

With companies like trade 2 save launching to give consumers more confidence in the pre-owned and used consumer electronics market, we hope that more consumers will take matters into their own hands and prevent the e-waste catastrophe so beautifully animated in WALL-E.

What ever happened to the National Computer Recycling Act?

Some of the poorest communities in developing countries are swamped by e-waste from the west. This is old news. But so too is legislation to abolish this growing trade.

Back in 2005, members of Congress formed an “e-waste working group,” hoping to jump-start a federal recycling system to curb the e-waste traffickers. The head of that group, Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), proposed the National Computer Recycling Act.

Mike Thompson Speaks out on the global e-waste crisis and the need for a practical home grown solutionIt was designed to establish a grant and fee program through the Environmental Protection Agency to encourage and promote the recycling of used computers and to promote the development of a national infrastructure for the recycling of used computers, and for other purposes.
To help fund the national recycling program a fee would be taken from the retail sales of certain electronics.

Good news for the environmentalists, but not so for the consumer electronics giants who would foot the ‘recycling tax’.

The act soon ran into ‘implementation issues’, and three years later is still under review (along with the Palmer’s Act of 1864 which requires Amish to dress more fashionably).

Individual States have tried to follow European Legislation

Thirteen states including California, Washington, Maine, and Minnesota have agreed in principal to e-waste laws and support among other states is growing, in addition to new research initiatives.

In September 2007, the Green Chemistry Research and Development Act was proposed, looking to authorize $165 million over three years for research into products that reduce or eliminate hazardous waste. Sadly, however, the bill still awaiting a Senate vote, while lobbyists bide their time picking at its seams.

The Europeans got there in the end

Considering the sheer bureaucratic complexities of the European Union, after many delays, they did manage to set in stone the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) regulations governing the safe disposal of IT equipment. The new legislation went into effect July 1st, 2007.

Under the new law, electrical and electronic producers, rebranders and importers must pay for the responsible disposal and recycling of their goods. (It’s a bit like getting wriggly’s to chisel all their chewing gum off of pavements).
The first of its kind, but certainly not the last, the WEEE directive is setting the stage for future legislation.
With the high cost of disposing e-waste safely, it’s hardly surprising that the problem is still growing at an alarming rate – lower environmental standards and working conditions in China, India, Kenya and elsewhere have led to an exponential influx of e-waste, often entering through lucrative illegal channels.

The majority of e-waste ends up being broken down by ill-equipped laborers working under hazardous conditions.

A typical router or switch may contain more than 2 percent lead by weight and up to 38 separate chemical elements.


The Simplest solutions are often the most easily overlooked

In an effort to combat e-waste, reuse has become a new priority in the consumer market. Organizations including Apple, Dell, HP, and Sony are already instigating change by establishing trade-in and recycling programs ahead of legislation. With the shortening of product life cycles, consumers can also buy, sell or trade used consumer electronics and computers at trading portals. By doing this, a product’s lifespan can be increased by up to 4 times, significantly lowering the amount of ewaste heading for China.

              Gartner estimates the energy from manufacturing, distribution and use of information and communications technology emits approximately 2 percent of total global carbon dioxide, equal to the emissions from the entire airline industry.

Gartner analyst Simon Mingay estimates that one in every dozen computers used worldwide is a “secondary computer,” and nearly 152.5 million used systems are shipped annually. The research firm predicts that both the home and professional markets for secondary PC’s will continue to see growth in the next several years, fueled by better performance, longer system life and recycling legislation that would give companies greater incentives for reuse and recycling.

Buying pre-owned hardware is not only a cost effective way to reduce IT costs, it is also perfectly aligned with e-waste reduction.

Organizations of all kinds can benefit from reuse, in ways that tangibly affect the bottom line and intangibly help save the environment.

In order for this to happen, more pressure needs to be implemented to enforce the kind of environment which would make widespread reuse both attractive and feasible.

Should recycling your PC really make you feel green?

It’s what we’re being told to do by every consumer electronics institution on the block, from Best Buy to Apple. But what actually happens to that monitor or PC once we drop it off and slip back into our Prius’s, tutting smugly at passing Hummers?

Well don’t feel so green greenies, because although your PC will no longer end up in a landfill somewhere in Alabama, it WILL be sold by the tonnage (for a healthy profit I might add) to the highest bidding e-waste merchant, who’ll then pile it high on a gas guzzling tanker to be shipped off to Hong Kong. From there it will be resold to another trader until it eventually ends up on the swelling e-waste dumps of China.

Children don’t last long living on e-waste dumps

Yes – these pictures are real, and these children do die of lead and mercury poisoning as they blow-torch or hack their way through millions of circuit boards.

Still – there are plenty of children where she came from when she reaches a life expectancy of 15 – and plenty of throw-away PCs, laptops, monitors, MP3 players, speakers, headphones, cellphones etc to grow the never ending mountain of e-waste being created to the rapturous sound of iTunes.

I make no secret of my suspicion of recycling programs and the greener than green recycling stores, many of whom actually charge to recycle your e-waste, only to make a clean (or dirty) profit as they shift it along the dirt never ending conveyor belt to China.


Is there an alternative? For an eight year old PC maybe not – none of the internals are up to date, but the real crime is that most of the stuff ending up on e-waste dumps today are between 2 and 3 years old.

Lead and mercury poisoning result in permanently brain damage the the children lucky enough to live into their teens.The bottom line is that most people today upgrade after about a year or so and leave their old laptop or cellphone lying around in a bottom draw until it’s no longer any good to anyone – before driving down to that (ever so lovely) environmental store with green tea and rose who’ll take it off your hands for $15 – you’ll get back into your Prius, tut at a Hummer and – well I think we’ve been here several million consumers before – Oh what a gravy train – an industry booming at both ends!

If people sold their one or two year old digital cameras, PCs, laptops, cellphones as pre-owned, and if possible, upgraded to another pre-owned but up to date model, then the e-waste merchants would suddenly find their business cut by 75% within a couple of years. The buy, sell or trade pre-owned model as advocated by new trading portal trade 2 save needs to feature strongly in the minds of Americans if the problem of ewaste is to be tackled in the short to medium term.

The downside to this, of course, is that the profits of Sony, Apple, Samsung and Acer among others would suffer from fewer sales. But then, is this such a terrible thing? We love the things they give us, but at some point we have to conclude that it may be too much of a good thing.

Upgrading to stay ahead with technology is becoming more and more important. It’s about time that as Americans we started to do it responsibly – oh and guess what – you’ll say a fist full of dollars too!

10 ways to curb the energy crisis NOW

The most worrying aspect about the current energy crisis is that there appears to be no short term solutions in terms of demand. Energy Consultant Dominic Whittome of Mainline Energy advocates the increased use of nuclear power as the most effective medium term sollution, however any new stations are unlikely to come online in any significant numbers for another 8-10 years, leaving America in a potential 1930′s style depression and the rest of the World in a food crisis for the short term.

Ironically a 1930′s style depression would significantly reduce demand for energy and bring down oil prices to about $30-40 a barrel, but a depression is hardly the solution we should be seeking.

What I have done here is try to put together 10 realistic measures that Americans can do as individuals, that if done in mass, would greatly reduce world oil prices and increase living standards in the short term whilst we wait for nuclear power stations if the political will allows it and more renewable energies in the long term.

  1. Stop using the Shopping Mall. What? are you crazy I hear you say. Well OK, I know it’s quite a social thing for some people, but realistically, driving to and from the shopping Mall equates to about 15% of petroleum needs for this country.
  2. Buy Groceries off of the Internet. Think about it – a single Safeway van can deliver the groceries of 100 customers in one journey. Now turn that single van into 100 cars – do the Maths!
  3. Buy Everything else off of the Internet and use land based postage. There is a certain amount of retail therapy that my wife, for one, will miss – so what’s a girl to do? To be honest, searching for that little black dress online can be equally as satisfying. Retailers like Victoria Secrets has an incredible online experience, and some retailers are even toying with the idea of online personal shoppers and utilizing the very latest in technology which will allow customers to download a body picture of themselves and place the clothes onto the model in a 3 dimensional landscape. The point is that a USPS or FED EX van (however polluting they are – and many run on natural gas now) – use up a tiny fraction of the millions of cars which go back and forth from the Malls every day! Also, freight trains move a ton of freight up to 423 miles on a single gallon of fuel. Most retailers also offer land based postage for free and guarantee delivery within 3-5 days.
  4. Buy pre-owned or refurbished if you can. Our deteriorating buying habits of consumer electronics, gadgets, games, (anything manufactured in China or the Far East) has lead to a significant rise in e-waste as well as increasing energy demands. When you buy, sell or trade used or pre-owned consumer electronics, cellphones, or PC Hardware, you reduce the amount needed to be manufactured.
  5. Reduce demand of imported products. Every time you upgrade your cellphone, iPod or computer for a new one, another one has to be made to fill that demand (by you). Making the product requires more energy than you’d think – a typical computer requires the equivalent of 4 gallons of petrol. This doesn’t include the energy needed to ship it to the US or the pollution created by the e-waste at the end of its (every shorter) lifecycle.
  6. Increase product lifecycles of consumer products. A decade ago you’d have a camera for 7-10 years before replacing it – we usually replaced it when it broke. Now we don’t think twice about upgrading from the 8MP model to the 10MP model after a year or so. That’s 5 times more cameras being made to satisfy the MUST HAVE revolution in the industry. We can still have the latest iPODS, laptops, camcorders, cellphones etc, but don’t always buy them new.
  7. Save money by buying pre-owned. The consumer electronics industry or Steve Jobs will certainly want to stop you from buying pre-owned – the industry as a whole has been making historic revenues as a direct result of shortening product lifecycles. They’ll lose money for sure, but don’t worry about the lowering of the demand having a negative effect on the economy.
  8. Spend the money you save on local produce. Imported consumer electronics, computers and gadgets make up about 15-20% of your total outgoings after tax. (Staggering isn’t it – websites like can show you in detail just how much money you’re putting away on these things). Buying pre-owned (and sometimes new when you had to) would reduce this figure to 3-5%, whilst still owning exactly the same kit in perfect working order. You’d only notice the difference in the first week. If most Americans did this we’d reduce the amount of tankers heading to the US by about 65%. That’s about 100% of the total energy demand of the global airline industry! The money you save, use on local produce which doesn’t require shipping across the globe. This will reduce demand for imports even further because you’ll be buying more stuff locally that you would have otherwise bought from abroad. In turn this would have a positive effect on our trade deficit too.
  9. Only recycle with local recyclers who guaranty local disposal. It’s a sad fact that the Ned Flanders in us skip-a-rooneys along to deposit our recycling in the hapless belief that we’re doing the right thing. Some ‘Green’ recycling firms even charge significant recycling fees for your monitors, computers etc. What you may not realize is that it’s pure black gold to them. They pass it on for a further fee to a recycling exporter who then dumps it on a gas guzzling tanker to be shipped back to China destined to saturate the drinking water of local peasant populations with benzine and bromide.
  10. Buy a Prius. OK, this last point is perhaps predictable, and living in San Francisco I am getting quite used to the sight of these things. These cars are much better than what the efficiency figures would suggest. Much of the petrol we use is spent sitting in traffic or behind a red light. A hybrid simply stops using energy when it stops moving. So the real efficiency should be judged by how many ‘real’ miles are traveled on a full tank of petrol. In reality you could easily double the efficiency of a Prius on top of what they are allowed to advertise. If you switch to a Prius expect to reduce your petrol consumption by 60% at the very least! I stick by the Prius because the other hybrids are so far behind in comparison. The Prius is streets ahead of the rest in terms of consumption. VW Golf are releasing a hybrid diesel at the end of 2009 which has better figures, however, with diesel currently at $4.75 in the Bay Area – I think it’s a non-starter.

So there it is – 10 ways that we could reverse the energy crisis NOW. Following these simple steps would have a dramatic and immediate effect. You’ll have more money in your pocket by following these rules, and you’ll be spending much more money on local goods as a result, which will stimulate the American economy instead of further stimulating the Chinese economy and our trade deficit with it.

Kite powered tankers to stem fuel crisis

A new tanker has been outfitted with a $725,000 computer-guided kite as an innovative auxiliary propulsion system which will offset fuel costs and allow the vessel to run more efficiently.


trade2save kite surfingThe 132 meter long MV “Beluga SkySails” is a joint venture between two companies; Beluga Group and Skysails. The technology steels the principal from kite surfing, now a hugely successful water sport. The 160-square meter kite is expected to reduce fuel costs by up to 20 percent ($1,600 per day) and significantly cut the ship’s carbon dioxide emissions as well.

Global shipping accounts for double the emissions of Aviation Read more »

Greenpeace question Cebit greeness

Greenpeace questioned the real green motivations by computer hardware manufacturers at the Cebit exhibition last week. Cebit’s commitments to Green IT were in fact disappointingly underwhelming.

The question is whether “Green IT” is really being taken that seriously beyond the PR activity and the glossy brochure work lovingly reproduced on recycled touchy-feely Hemp paper.


There were no toxics-free hardware demonstrations, no solutions to the problems with e-waste, or recycling – just an un-manned booth lost behind the “tree of commitment“ – ironically very under watered and wilting – all the servers in the house were clearly heating up its atmosphere; a global microcosm if ever I saw one.

Toxic chemicals, e-waste and the low recycling rate aren’t a big issue there. Many “Green IT” companies are exhibiting software and hardware technologies to reduce energy consumption in data centers. There, the search for less energy consumption is of course not mainly motivated by ecological reasons, but by financial reasons. The computer manufacturer Fujitsu Siemens also announced a zero watt screen which zero-consuming stand-by mode. Thus, energy (bottom line) efficiency is all the rave. e-waste and ever shorter product life-cycles thanks to over production – not such a hot topic.

There was no one at Cebit advocating that consumers buy and sell pre-owned and used consumer electronics as a way of reducing e-waste. This is not surprising, as any significant uptake on such a proposal would directly impact the profits of the consumer electronics industry.

Greenpeace did find some little innovative and eco-friendly things in the award-winner exhibition of International Forum Design at Cebit. One of the product design awards was awarded for a product called USB-Cell – batteries which have an integrated USB port and can be charged without a special charger, so you’ll never be without power.

Cebit did a good job in giving the impression that “Green IT” is the big thing but the tree of commitment’s condition said it all.

How to Choose a Greener Graphics Card

        Energy Consumption is an issue for Graphics Cards, however, to make any computer hardware greener, trading-in old graphics card in or buying pre-owned is a sure way of making sure it will stay off of the e-waste tip for some time to come. It’ll also stop the person you sell it to from buying a new one.

Chris Whittome

Source: Andrew Binstock at Greener Computing


In this column, I have previously examined energy-saving options on processors and hard disks. This time around, I’d like to examine one of the other principal energy sinks on the standard PC: graphics cards.

Graphics cards are a confusing area of technology because almost all the attention and press the cards receive is dedicated to the high-end, super-expensive cards favored by gamers and hardware aficionados. Those users live and die by the next release of whiz-bang features and the number of anti-aliased triangles that can be displayed.

But if you’re choosing graphics capabilities for a business system, the likelihood that anti-aliased triangles are important to your choice is close to nil. And that means that you’ll be able to save energy, because generally, the more powerful the graphics card, the more electricity it uses. 

How people use their computers determines what kind of cards they need, and the power that the cards will use. Most knowledge workers have very modest graphical needs. As long as they can see their Excel charts, enjoy basic Web 2.0 features, and view the occasional video clip on a single monitor, they are content. 

For many users, this capability is delivered by the video capabilities built directly into the motherboard. They don’t need a separate graphics card. The motherboard graphics system has modest but sufficient capabilities. This inexpensive option results in systems that consume less electricity.

The second tier of users consists of those who have somewhat more demanding needs. In the business world, these users tend to be software developers and “power users.” They don’t necessarily need faster graphics. Rather, they require a graphics card that can drive more than large LCD monitors. (By large, I mean a monitor that requires screen resolution greater than 1280 x 768.) The graphics cards required to drive multiple large monitors vary from entry-level to mid-level products. In most cases, the entry-level products are sufficient.

For example, software developers, who are a breed apart when it comes to system needs, rarely have to do more than display code, Web pages, and some basic animations. What they do need is multiple large monitors. So, for them video cards such as the Nvidia Quadro series are sufficient. For example, the Quadro NVS 290 supports two monitors at 1920 x 1200 resolution and consumes a mere 21 watts (with a street price of currently $160 or so). For users with somewhat higher requirements or those needing basic 3D graphics, the Nvidia Quadro FX 570 will almost surely suffice. (It supports two monitors at 2560 x 1600 resolution, has a street price of around $200, and requires 38W of power.)

One question that will surely arise in keeping graphics-card prowess and power consumption in line with user requirements is how to measure the graphics performance as experienced by the user. The most effective ways is with the ViewPerf benchmark developed by the Standard Performance Evaluation Corp. (SPEC).

SPEC is a vendor-neutral, hardware benchmarking organization. While most SPEC benchmarks must be purchased, ViewPerf is available at no cost at Release 10 of the benchmark ships as a Windows program (while version 9 runs on Windows and Linux). It’s a large executable and takes a good 10 minutes to run. It finishes up by providing a table of six performance results for the graphics subsystem. Take the average of these and you have a single-number rating for the graphics capabilities. You can then test other cards to see whether they provide comparable performance. Some manufacturers, such as Nvidia provide their cards’ ratings on each of the tests, so you can perform highly detailed comparisons.

These comparisons are particularly important when it comes to the small group of users who require (or at least think they require) very high-end hardware. Ultra-high end graphics cards are monsters of consumption. For example, the Nvidia Quadro FX 5600 requires 171 watts of power (and sell for more than $3000). Typically, such cards are the domain of specialists who use high-end workstations. These include engineers doing very complex 3D modeling and some financial analysis.

Often, though, users’ requirements can be satisfied at lower prices and significantly reduced power consumption. To prove the point, the Nvidia 4600 has nearly the same performance profile as the 5600, but it costs half the price and consumes nearly 25 percent less power. Using SPEC tests will help determine performance metrics for cards; vendor spec sheets will tell you how much power each card consumes. In that way, you’ll be able to choose less power-hungry cards, without sacrificing performance.

In sum, the graphics card is a PC component that can easily consume the majority of a system’s power. As a result, it’s important to carefully match the user’s needs with the performance of a given card. By taking measurements of needs and capabilities and matching them carefully, you can significantly lower power consumption, heat generation, and, of course, the price tag.

Sony Takes First in Greenpeace Green IT Survey


HANOVER, Germany, Mar. 6, 2008 — By producing the only products to score over the 50 percent mark in a survey of business and consumer electronics products, Sony’s Vaio notebook and a Sony Ericsson mobile phone and PDA were the most environmentally friendly models on the market — but the results show just how far the industry as a whole has to come.

Greenpeace, which has been releasing a quarterly ranking of electronics manufacturers, released a similar survey during this week’s CeBIT conference.

The survey, “Searching for Greener Electronics,” studied 37 products voluntarily submitted by 14 electronics manufacturers on four sets of criteria: energy efficiency, use of hazardous materials, product lifecycle and innovation / marketing, awarding points on a 1 to 10 scale. Although Sony swept the winners with models in the notebook computer, mobile phone and PDA categories, those products were notable only because they were the sole products to break the 5-point limit.

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