Sexy Green Geek: Part 2 – Reuse

Welcome to part two of becoming a sexy green geek! Last time, we focused on reducing consumption. This time, the topic is reusing what you already have.

Reusing should always come before recycling. Since commercially recycled e-waste often isn’t actually recycled at all, it makes sense to try and find a second life for old equipment. Remember that old CRT I advised replacing in part one of this article? Well, you don’t want it to end up in a landfill. There are a lot of folks who can’t afford a new CRT or LCD. You can even find a second-hand LCD for yourself, and it’s actually easier than you might think.

Donate to and shop at secondhand shops

Many secondhand stores, such as Goodwill, resell computer parts at very low prices. When I need old memory, such as PC-100 memory modules, I go to thrift stores—128MB can be located for about $20, as compared to $70+ at any other store. There is no reason to be spending new-RAM money on a 10-year-old computer. Used RAM will work just fine. You can probably pick up a used LCD pretty inexpensively, too.

If you have an old machine you’re sure you can’t reuse, take it to one of these shops or donate it to a school. A local Linux Users Group likely accepts old hardware and installs lightweight Linux distros for the less-fortunate. I know of one in the DC area that uses donated hardware to set up computer labs in low-income neighborhoods. If there’s a Hackerspace in your area, they might also be able to find a use for still-functioning equipment.

Get it free—or give it to others

Of course, there’s one thing better than inexpensive, and that’s free. Ever heard of Freecycle? It’s a system for locally trading still-working stuff, including hardware. You can pick up a free LCD to replace that old CRT you donated. You can also pick up other hardware. You’ll be helping keep that stuff out of the landfill and keep your money in your wallet. Nice!

Remember to always use a drive nuking utility such as DBAN before donating any hard drives, though.

Another thing that people throw away without a second thought are cell phones. Did you know that cell phones that still function but are no longer attached to a service plan can still be used to dial 911? For this reason, some charities will take them. If your cell phone is broken, it can still be used for parts or be refurbished by ReCellular.

Oh and don’t forget, when you go to computer stores, think about taking a reusable bag with you instead of using store-provided plastic ones.

Saving storage

What do you use for data storage? If you’re still using those darned floppy disks that seem to die after three uses, or if you burn a lot of CDs, why not get a nice USB flash drive? They’ll last years (unlike floppies), and they can be rewritten, unlike most CDs.

Updating the old to make it new

In need of a new router, firewall, or network storage unit? How about taking that old desktop sitting in the basement and putting it to good use? There’s no reason to go buy new hardware. An older machine running Linux, FreeBSD, NetBSD or OpenBSD can run GNU Zebra, a Free and Open Source routing software. For a firewall, OpenBSD’s packet filter is pretty much the best out there. There’s even a script to configure it for use as a home firewall. The same goes for network storage. You don’t need a pair of Core 2 Duos and Windows Server 2008 for this. One of the great things about Linux and the BSDs is that they can run on old hardware. Hook up a bunch of hard drives to an old machine running FreeNAS, and your Windows machine can access it with CIFS, your *nix machines can access it with NFS, and any of them can use SFTP.

Green eats, for geeks

Back to food: if you really have to go with the classic Chinese food, as Steven Levy detailed in “Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution,” use reusable chopsticks. The number of disposable bamboo chopsticks used each year is insane. Don’t believe me? Check out this Chinese blog (it’s in English) that notes that in China, 45,000,000,000 pairs of disposable chopsticks are thrown away each year. That’s 25,000,000 trees! The photo of disposable chopsticks thrown away by a single restaurant is jaw dropping. You can get a pair of kaihashi (portable collapsible chopsticks) from either Pans or ThinkGeek. There is at least one company out there taking these used disposable chopsticks, sterilizing them, and recycling them into lamps, bowls, purses, and jewelry.

Also, instead of drinking soda by the can or bottle, do something a bit better for the environment and your body. Drink water. Yes, the tasteless stuff that comes out of the sink. No, not the tasteless stuff that comes from a bottle. Unbottled. If you really don’t like your tap water, a filtered pitcher can help. Pour it into a glass (not a throwaway paper or Styrofoam cup) or a reusable bottle (to avoid spilling on the electronics), and keep hydrated that way.

How do you contribute?

Do you regularly reuse old computers? What are your favorite ways to repurpose an old machine?

Ready for part III? Keep on reading: Sexy Green Geek: Part 3 – Recycle