5 Habits for Greener Computing

With Earth Day approaching, you're probably thinking about the different ways you can do your bit for the environment. Well, if you're reading this, it's a pretty safe bet you're using a computer, and computers generate waste in all kinds of ways. But by changing just a few habits, you can keep more stuff out of landfills, save energy, and even tuck a few extra dollars in your wallet. Here are five ideas to get you started.

1. Save Paper and Ink

I receive a lot of press releases and other printed documents that I never read more than once (if ever), so when I can get away with it I print on the reverse side of these pieces, reserving my pristine sheets for letters and other important documents. The savings are tangible: I've bought exactly one 500-sheet pack of paper in the last two years.

You can save more paper by shrinking your text and printing two pages side by side on one sheet of paper, if your printer driver allows it. (You'd better have good eyesight, though.) In Windows XP, choose Print, and then select Preferences or Print Setup. Look for an option called 'Pages per Sheet', and set it to 2.

If you print a lot from the Web, you should absolutely download a copy of the ad-supported GreenPrint World so that you can trim the stuff you don't need printed, which saves both paper and ink (or toner).

You can also save ink--easily the most expensive part of any inkjet printer--by printing in draft mode whenever possible. Look for more tips in "The Cheapskate's Guide to Printing."

2. Stop Wasting CDs and DVDs

I can't count the number of times someone has burned a disc just to give me, say, 100MB of data, leaving the remaining 600MB (or, worse, 4GB or more) unused. Rewritable discs cost more and take a little longer to burn, but they're perfect for passing data back and forth without throwing out all that metal and plastic.

Aleratec CD/DVD shredder
When you're done with your discs, you can recycle them by sending them to GreenDisk for responsible destruction and reuse. You must pay a small fee--$6.95 for boxes 20 pounds or lighter--but you can also cram in any other electronic waste you have lying around. Though GreenDisk guarantees that the material on your discs won't fall into the wrong hands, the extracautious can protect their data beforehand using Aleratec's CD/DVD Shredder. Despite its name, the CD/DVD Shredder actually pounds thousands of tiny pits into the surface of a disc, rendering it unreadable. Aleratec doesn't sell it anymore, but it does turn up on Amazon and eBay.

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