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More Thoughts On Making Recycling High-Tech Easier

Last month, I remarked that while I love being in the world of computers, networks, and high-tech in general, I'm often horrified at how much trash we generate and wonder if we can reduce that a bit. This month, let's consider that further.

The first thing that I suggested was a box that you could plug a whole bunch of old hard drives into, resulting in a fault-tolerant way to make those unwanted drives into a useful and RAID-ed external storage box. My friend Pat Hirayama then dropped me a line to point me to a product called Drobo ( that does something sort of like that for SATA drives, which is quite good news. They've got a couple of products, and the less-expensive one accommodates four SATA drives in any combination of drive sizes—they've got a nice page on their website that lets you drag differently-sized drives onto a Drobo and then shows you how much usable storage you'd end up with. The Drobo boxes connect via USB, FireWire or, on the $1,200 model, iSCSI. (Perhaps we'll see an eSATA interface on a future box, Drobo?)

Frustration-free Packaging
I got more good news about reducing our high-tech junk footprint from Amazon recently. I needed an SDHC card for a new camera (a Canon G10, by the way—a great camera and the first easy-to-carry point-and-shooter that I've ever used that could rival the digital SLRs that I use and love but don't always want to drag around), so I looked it up on Amazon and was surprised to see that I could either get it in its original packaging, or in what Amazon calls their "frustration-free" packaging. If you've ever purchased a small electronic item like an SDHC card, then you know that it arrives in a relatively large box which contains yet another box or plastic pack, leaving you with an item not much larger than a coin surrounded by a small mountain of packaging junk that you can recycle if lucky, or otherwise commit to a landfill for the next few millennia. With Amazon's new packaging, I received the SDHC card in its own small protective case, packed in a small, easily-recycled cardboard box.

In one of those uncommon but fortunate cases wherein we can both do better for the planet and make our own lives easier, you'll probably fall in love with "frustration-free" packaging the first time you get it because it won't challenge your blood pressure the way most modern-day high-tech packaging does. I can't count the number of times that I've purchased something, only to have it appear in some fiendishly constructed plastic case that cannot be ripped open by normal human hands, requiring me to dig out some wickedly sharp box cutter and then figure out some surface where I can safely lay the plastic package, attack it with the box cutter and yet not destroy the surface. Opening Amazon's new packaging, in contrast, is simplicity itself. Amazon says that they're working to convince manufacturers to offer thousands of items in this minimalist sort of packaging in the coming years, and for that I feel they deserve some applause. Thank you, Amazon!

Recycle CRTs
Next up in the list of things we can do to reduce high-tech waste: recycle your old CRTs. The once-common cathode ray tube monitors and televisions each contain, I'm told, about ten pounds of lead. Thus, CRTs that sit in landfills slowly leach their poisonous contents into the water table. I don't imagine that anyone reading this in 2009 is planning on buying a new CRT any time soon, but if you do have an old CRT lying around gathering dust and you're thinking of getting rid of it, please consider Googling "monitor recycling" or "CRT recycling" and see if someone nearby can pick your lead bomb up and get rid of it safely. Or, if it still functions, consider donating it to one of the many charities that gather up unwanted high-tech stuff and give it to the less-fortunate among us. But either way, please be sure to, ahem, "get the lead out" when you recycle old monitors.

What do you do to recycle your old tech junk? Some of you shared some great high-tech recycling ideas with me last month; I hope to hear more!

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