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Computer savvy

Schools and students mean computers and printer cartridges—often at home as well as at school—and that means power consumption and e-waste. Before you buy another computer, think about whether you really need it, how you'll use it, whether it can be recycled or re-used, and if not, how you'll dispose of it.

Computer keyboard


When choosing a computer, consider what's appropriate for you. If you use a computer mainly for emailing, internet browsing and note taking, you'll need a less powerful one—which uses less energy. Try to avoid being caught in the cycle of upgrading to the newest, latest and greatest. Consider second-hand options—there are plenty of places you can source pre-owned or refurbished computers, laptops and tablets, or ask around for someone who's upgrading or has one spare. If you do need a new computer, buy something with sufficient memory that meets your requirements and will allow for software upgrades (requiring greater memory) in the future. If you don't use lots of applications and software with large capacity, consider a laptop or tablet as these usually use a lot less power than a desktop system.

Computers may only be small, but they can churn through power. There are a number of simple ways to reduce power use.

  • When you leave your computer for a short while, turn off the screen to reduce power consumption—contrary to popular belief a screen-saver does not save power.
  • Look for and use an automatic power down. This feature puts computers into a 'sleep mode' (or standby) or turns them off after a period of inactivity. Nearly all computers and monitors have this feature—you may have to turn it on yourself to activate it.
  • Turn your computer off at the wall when not in use for a long time, especially overnight. Even when on 'standby' computers and other appliances continue to draw power. Standby power can account for more than 10% of household electricity use.
  • If you have a printer, only turn it on when you need to print.

Our home entertainment and technology guide has lots of tips for purchasing and using electronic gadgetry.

The e-waste created by unwanted computers is a growing problem in Australia so it's important to re-use and recycle wherever possible. Computers contain a number of toxic chemicals, including lead in the batteries, brominated flame retardants (BRFs), and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) used for coating wires. These toxins can leach into the environment and cause health risks if taken to landfill; so unwanted computers or their parts should never be put into your household garbage.

  • If you have an unwanted, working computer, donate it to a friend or charity.
  • Drop off unwanted televisions, computers and computer products such as keyboards, mice and scanners free of charge at recycling services participating in the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme and help to increase recovery of valuable materials.
  • Planet Ark's RecyclingNearYou and TechCollect both list organisations recycling televisions, computers and accessories by location.
  • Recycle used or empty laser and inkjet cartridges by dropping them off at participating retailers including Australia Post. Search Cartridges 4 Planet Ark for drop-off points in your area.
  • You may be able to organise a cartridge recycling fundraiser for your school—look online for organisations that do this.

If there are no e-waste services currently in your area, look at re-use options or store items safe from the weather until access becomes available.