Amelia Ahern… helping to make computing more sustainable.
Amelia Ahern… helping to make computing more sustainable.

IT girl says recycle technology

Lismore computer retailer Amelia Ahern is committed to the principle of sustainable computing.

She manages her business, PowerMax Computers, in keeping with sustainability guidelines and she actively encourages her customers to do likewise.

“I grew up in the bush and I love nature,” she said. “I don’t think we are doing this planet any favours at the moment. I think everyone has got their head in the sand and we all need to make more of an effort.

“It is something I feel strongly about.”

Amelia said there were two main issues with computing and the Earth: power use and toxicity.

Worldwide, computers use energy that is generating the same amount of carbon dioxide as 11 million cars.

“In our business we have decided to install solar panels that cover our energy use,” she said. “This makes sense for the Earth, but also financially, as it will remove our growing electricity expense and should pay for itself in about six years.

“In the United States computing takes 15% of energy, just behind lighting at 20%.

“Our business is trying to reduce energy used by our computers and our lighting. We plan to fit out our new workshop with the new super-efficient LED lights.”

Amelia said that on the issue of toxicity she was very happy that Apple had redesigned its laptop and desktop lines and had removed nasty chemicals such as lead, arsenic, bromide, PVC and mercury.

Other major computer manufacturers, such as Dell and Hewlett Packard, also have moved to increase the recyclability of their machines by removing toxic components in keeping with international standards.

“I am also happy and proud that Lismore City Council has one of the State’s best e-waste recycling programs,” she said. “It takes everything from fans to cables and has them professionally dismantled in Brisbane by an e-waste specialist so that the valuable resources can be recouped.”

Amelia has some simple tips to help all computer users work in a more sustainable manner.

“For those using a PC, turning on the energy savings setting saves up to 600 kilowatt hours a year per computer,” she said. “In Mac this is set on by default. Screen savers are not energy savers and LCD displays do not need them.

“Turn it off when you are not using it. Heaps of power is wasted by printers, modems, displays that are in energy saver (stand-by) mode!

“Buy quality products that you believe will last. Manufacturing is often over a third of a product’s environmental impact. It is wasteful to buy cheap things and throw them away.

“Use USB memory sticks, rather than CDs and DVDs. They can be reused 10,000 times and make less plastic waste.”

One of the cornerstones of sustainability is reuse and it brings benefits to the whole community when applied to computing.

“Give your old computer to a worthy cause,” Amelia said. “We have a program called Mac Gift. Someone donates an older computer and we fix it up and give it to a local community organisation.

“This month we had three Mac Gifts, to Australian Seabird Rescue, the Lismore Lantern Parade and Australian Breastfeeding Association.

“Some of the older machines can be a bit power hungry and some of them aren’t terribly useful any more, so it is a balance thing.

“If you brought in a 10-year-old machine, no-one would want that and it wouldn’t be compatible on the internet etc. So there is a point where things have to be recycled, but a lot of people are really happy with the idea that their machine is going on and having another life, especially with a community organisation.

“We’ve given them to a huge range of groups.

“I’m actually open to community groups requesting them. We have a list of organisations and we gift them to them as they come in.”

Another cornerstone of sustainability is recycling and it is essential for handling the tonnes of e-waste dumped every day.

“Recycle all your e-waste, even CDs,” Amelia said. “If you are worried about a particular environmental impact, think about how you can offset it. We have been donating to Rainforest Rescue for three years now to offset the paper our business uses.”

Sustainable computing was about minimising the electric power used, recycling, reusing or disposing properly of the machinery and buying machines that didn’t use toxic components.

“When people buy a new machine, some of them drop their old machine in to be recycled,” she said. “We take machines in that situation as a public service to people, but the local tip has also set up e-waste recycling so you can take old machines straight there.

“At one stage I was driving loads of e-waste to North Brisbane for recycling, which is quite a hike in the truck.

“That’s stopped now that LCC is doing the recycling. They are doing a really good job, partly because I bothered them until they took it on, but they did take it on.

“All the other councils do e-waste drop-off days once a month or whatever, but it is not enough. It still ends up in landfills.”

Amelia said the Lismore tip had a special section for e-waste. From there it was freighted to Brisbane where Sims Recycling disassembled it and the plastics were sent to China where they were melted down to make new plastics. The metals were smelted in Australia to make new metals. The glass from the old cathode ray tubes went to either Holland or New York, which were the only recyclers for cathode ray glass, which had lead in it.

Recycling cathode ray tubes was quite expensive and some of the reason that LCC should be applauded for what it was doing with e-waste was because it was footing the financial burden.

It did not charge extra for a person to drop off a screen, but it was paying for that screen to be transported and disposed of.

“It costs you the same as if you take a load of rubbish,” she said. “If you take a load of rubbish and there is a screen in there it doesn’t cost extra.”

Amelia said the practice of leaving computers and peripherals turned on all the time wasted huge amounts of power.

“If you are using it daily, leaving a network running isn’t a big thing, but if you are going away for the weekend, turn your modem off or turn it all off,” she said. “Leaving computers on overnight and leaving monitors on is a huge waste of power.

“Even on stand-by, things will continue to draw power.

“Also, don’t forget chargers. A charger plugged into the wall but nothing else (e.g. phone, laptop, etc) will continue to use (waste) power. Heat makes a big difference to the longevity of the processor. A machine that is left on constantly is a hotter machine and it will die sooner.

“We encourage everyone to use rechargeable batteries in components such as a wireless mouse or keyboard. Rechargeables last longer and they go again and again.”

Amelia said LCC was setting up a star-rating program for businesses.

There would be various stars a business could achieve, depending on its environmental practices.

“It is certainly useful to encourage businesses to look at their impact,” she said. “Business is run by local people and a lot of them want to make a difference.”

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