A common charger, less plastic

The International Telecommunication Union has approved a common cell-phone charger format, using what some of us already have — a mini-USB — as a global standard.

This standard means you don’t need a different charger for a new phone — changing phones frequently is a problem in its own right — so they needn’t be made, bought or discarded. Indeed, there’ll be little call to include a “free” charger with a new phone, so is likely appealing for manufacturers, too.

Less plastic and metal and waste. A good thing. (But hold on to your phone as long as possible and recycle it when it’s dead.)

BBC report

Bought batteries online with less plastic

Trying to make household appliances last longer, to keep their plastic in active use and out of landfills. So when my old cordless phone’s battery wore out, I ordered one from an eBay vendor. Cheaper that way. (I care about low cost, too, to a point.)

Little would I guess la_tronics — whose appeal was free shipping — would ship my order in a rigid all-cardboard “gator pak

Of course, the product did come with a small plastic blister; I assume there’s some plastic in the battery itself, but that was a given and the packing isn’t.

Note: I received no compensation for this notice; indeed, I have not contacted the vendor about it.

“Printing” recycled plastic goods

I’m not a terrible fan of plastic, unless I come up against a product that really is better made of plastic than an alternative. A toothbrush head comes to mind.

That, and the world is already filled with plastic waste. How might we make something of it?

OK, the RepRap (Replicating Rapid prototyper) is something the hacker kids love: a device that prints three-dimensional items — layer by ultrathin layers — and might use waste thermoplastic to make new items.

Sure, the current plastic-for-everything economy won’t work with these, but that’s my point. This could be option when we do need plastic tools, and where we it makes sense to treat it as a valuable resource.

See this Open Source Ecology article for details and an interesting video

Lowish-plastic computer followup

I still love the little Ubuntu Linux computer from Zareason I wrote about in December. So much that I’ll spill the beans and note that I didn’t get for myself, but for my employer. (Hi gang!)

And we’ve gotten more since.

What I didn’t mention then is that you only get the computer: no mouse, no keyboard. So if you have a working mouse and keyboard, that’s some plastic you don’t have to rue.

And if you get four computers at one time, they come in the original cardboard carton from the case manufacturer, with only enough plastic tape to seal it. Nice.

A lowish-plastic computer

100_2942You know how I approve of using Linux to make a computer last longer. And as I’ve said before, I’m cutting back on buying electronics to save the plastic in goods and packaging. But what if you need a new computer? This is a computer I bought for someone else, and could be a winner.

It comes from ZaReason, a small producer with a good reputation for customer service– upgraded from one of their their base options — and here are the specs:

  • SKU16725 Shuttle KPC
  • Processor: Pentium Dual-Core E2140 1.6 GHz
  • Memory: 2 GB DDR2-667
  • Hard Disk: 80 GB SATA2 (included)
  • Networking: Gigabit Ethernet (included)
  • Operating System: Ubuntu 8.10 Intrepid Ibex (Gnome)
  • Display: [none]
  • Speakers: [none]
  • Input devices: [none]
  • Warranty: 1 Year (included)

That cost a paltry $307.00, plus $22.30 shipping, and it flies. If you can use a Linux machine, and you have everyday office needs, this might be a good option.

The computer case itself case seems to be heavy steel but does have a thick lucite panel on the front, under which you can insert your own art, making it a kind of picture frame, if you like. Makes more sense if you see the Shuttle site. It comes with cables, and these are (of course) coated in plastic. But you knew that.


Now for the packaging. ZaReason started with a case from Shuttle, so they inherited their packaging. ZaReason adds the innards, installs the operating system, adds documentation and other goodies and ship it. So it’s one carton inside another.  (Click the smaller images to get a bigger version.)

The foam peanuts were made of starch. They dissolve in water. A nice touch.

In fine Beth Terry style, I weighed or estimated the weight of the rest of the plastic.

  • large foam packing pieces, original to the Shuttle case: 4.25 ounces (trashed; this is the one real place for improvement)
  • outer box tape and inner box handle: approx. 1 ounce (boxes kept for later use)
  • the useful plastic: a corn-plastic-handled screwdriver, including the metal shaft; Ubuntu Linux operating system disk and hardware disk with windowed envelopes: 2 ounces (kept for computer maintenance)
  • zipper bags, twist ties, nonwoven cloth cover, anti-scratch cover and anti-static bubble pouch: 1 ounce (bags, ties and pouch re-used for storage; the rest trashed)

100_2945100_2946I suppose, plastic-wise, it could be a lot worse. And I like the computer a lot.

How Linux can reduce your plastic load

As I mentioned in my answers to Beth Terry, I’ve given up gratuitous electronics purchases to reduce my plastic use. Not that I’m missing anything, except the expense. But since 2003, I’ve been using one version or another (the so-called “distributions”) of the Linux operating system to make the most of my home and work computers. And for most of that time, I’ve been using Ubuntu Linux, which has become the leading choice for desktop users.

Ubuntu Linux is an example of free and open-source software, meaning that it is free to share and adapt, and as a matter of practice free of charge to download. It tends to be easier on hardware resources, and since people can adapt it, old hardware tends to be supported much better than, say, Windows Vista. Indeed, computers that fail to run Vista can usually run Ubuntu Linux or another version of Linux. (You can get Linux to run on a Roomba, if you’re so inclined.)

If you don’t throw away a computer — and we’ve seen what becomes of many “recycled” computers — and buy a new one but continue to use the old one, you’ve saved a lot of plastic, embedded energy, toxic metals and other resources. I still use an eight-year-old computer (though not as my main machine) that started life wheezing under Windows ME.

Now, Ubuntu Linux isn’t for everyone, but it’s for more people than who currently use it. To be fair, hardcore gamers won’t find their favorite titles and there is some proprietary software — like Photoshop and Quicken — that’s not available and top-flight users of those software packages may not like the free and open-source alternatives. And it is different. But that doesn’t stop scads of people from going from Windows XP to Mac OS X, and I think that’s a further leap in the feel of computing than XP to Ubuntu Linux. The least you can do is try.

The usual way to try Ubuntu Linux is to download the software (a “iso”) and burn it to a CD ROM, and then when booting up your computer, force it to start Ubuntu Linux from the CR ROM drive instead. This is the so-called Live CD. If you furiously press the Escape, F2 or F12 key — it tends to be one or the other — as the computer starts up, you’ll see you have the option to boot from something other than your hard drive. Choose the CD ROM or optical drive, and in a couple of minutes you’ll see a different face on your computer . . . . The underlying operating system is still there, and will go back to it the next time you start your computer.

You can also order a pre-formatted CD ROM free-of-charge (though that can take ages to arrive; the last one I got shipped from Belgium) or buy one for a few dollars from any number of vendors; there are tons on eBay, for instance. (The current version is 8.10, code named “the Intrepid Ibex”.) But wait — CD ROMs are plastic, perhaps too much for scruples when there’s an alternative. If you already have a USB key drive of 1 gigabyte or more, you can have a Live USB instead, and they’re better because it’s faster and closer to what it would be if you installed it properly. Also, you can have a “persistence layer” that lets you save files you create. It’s like carrying around the essence of your computer in your hand. (Some people do; handy if you don’t have a laptop and have to use Uncle Bob’s computer when visiting family for the holidays!) Someone who has a current, working Ubuntu Linux setup and the download file can make a such a Live USB, like one candle lighting another. And if you live in the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area, I might be able to help.


(Soon I’ll review a new computer that has Ubuntu Linux pre-installed.)

SD cards with less plastic

Rise Above Plastics already wrote about an SD flash memory card purchase at Costco, but that’s not what I was thinking about yesterday when I walked to Radio Shack to buy a 8gig SD card on sale. But it turns out that SanDisk product also was in less plastic packaging, though without the handy carrying cases seen on the other blog. Like the Costco purchase — though I can’t think why I would ever shop there — I had to have someone give me the memory cards. Don’t know if that’s a function of the smaller packaging, or the fact these are small high-value products, and I haven’t shopped around to see if SanDisk is so lightly packaged everywhere.  Readers?

The tally? 5 grams of plastic waste and a flash memory card so small it didn’t even register on the kitchen scale. Compared to more than 30g of plastic waste for an equal amount of DVD storage — make that 186g if using CDs — and flash memory is more convenient to reuse.