Green Gadgets for the Holidays
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Electronic gadgets are popular holiday gifts, but as their popularity and versatility continue to grow, so does their impact on the environment.
Devices that plug into wall outlets are responsible for a small but growing portion of a household's total energy consumption (about five to seven percent). This energy is generated primarily by fossil fuel-fired power plants, which are America's single greatest source of heat-trapping carbon dioxide and the air pollutants mercury and sulfur dioxide.
Battery-powered devices pose problems as well. More than three billion alkaline batteries are thrown away in the United States each year instead of being recycled; the toxic metals they contain (such as lead, mercury, and cadmium) can leak into groundwater supplies and harm local residents or wildlife.With a few simple strategies, you can give your gadget-loving friends and family members a gift with a smaller environmental footprint:
Look for the Energy Star label. These electronics use significantly less energy than conventional models. Energy Star-rated power adapters and battery chargers are also available.
(Re)charge it. Look for models that come with a rechargeable battery. If the gadget on your shopping list comes only with conventional alkaline batteries, replace them with rechargeable batteries and include a battery charger with the gift. (Note: both conventional and rechargeable batteries contain toxic metals and should not be thrown away. See the related links for battery recycling locations.)
Go solar. Consumers can now power electronic devices such as cell phones, music players, and even laptops with solar-powered battery chargers. Some are small and easily portable (including backpacks covered with flexible solar panels), making them suitable for travel.
Shake it up. A variety of gadgets (including radios, cell phone chargers, and flashlights) can be powered mechanically, either by turning a crank or shaking them. For example, winding a cell phone for two minutes can provide six minutes of talk time (or several hours of standby power), while a 30-second shake can power a flashlight for 5 to 10 minutes. These products are perfect for hikers or campers who might want to bring a bit of civilization with them into the wilderness.
If you plan to give someone a new gadget to replace an older model, consider recycling the old gadget as part of the gift. Many companies (see the related links) refurbish older electronic devices, salvage the usable parts, or recycle the toxic components.