Tech fair shows off green gadgets

The 2nd annual Greener Gadgets conference was part competition, part showcase and part roundtable debate.

Hosted by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) in New York, the show is still a small one-day event.

But already it attracts some of the brightest eco-minds from around the globe.

Saul Griffith from wind energy firm Makani Power said the gathering should focus on the potential of new technology.

"What's important to us is not the laptop and cellphone, it's Twitter and Facebook. It's the social actions that these things enable us to do," he explained.

"So the hardware should become irrelevant as soon as possible."

He added that the actual hardware is "where the toxins are produced and that's where the energy is used".

Recompute cardboard computer case

A cardboard computer case could help solve electronic material waste

One of devices attempting to tackle the issue of electronic material waste was the Recompute cardboard computer case.

The recyclable case houses the computer parts needed to make a machine work.

Brenden Macaluso, the product's designer, explained the process of making the case.

"The actual manufacturing process is die cutting, so you are punching it out like cookie cutter shapes.

"Then just gluing it up and sliding the parts together and adding a little bit of print to it."

One incentive for getting creative with recyclable material was the show's competition for more environmentally-friendly gadgets.

Entries included a portable hand-powered Laundry Pod, a power consumption metering piggy bank called Power-Hog, and the RITI printer which uses coffee or tea dregs for ink.

But the crowned winner was Tweet-a-Watt which measures electricity usage and sends out the information to others on micro-blogging website Twitter.


Tweet-a-Watt measures electricity usage and won the show's contest

"On Twitter it just has text and it says here's what I used today, here's what I used yesterday and here's what I want to use, so you can see me get closer to my goal," said co-designer Phillip Torrone.

Petting zoo

The inventors hope it will foster a new attitude among the public and likened it to being praised for weight loss when dieting.

Conference visitors heading for its Ecolet "material petting zoo" could get their hands on green materials being used in the tech world.

Sheep Poo Paper, for example, is perfect for Quick Start guides, while potato-based plastic Solanyl has built-in "timed degradation".

"Essentially what that allows designers and engineers to do is figure out exactly how long they want the product to last, " explained Matt Grigsby, the boss of Ecolect.

"If they anticipate the life cycle of the product on the market to be three years then they can time the material to degrade after three years or five years," he added.

Packaging debate

One device its makers hoped would not disintegrate is a re-chargeable laptop bag that uses the sun's energy.

It is often used by professionals working in remote locations where sunshine is plentiful.

Shayne McQuade, Voltaic Systems

Shayne McQuade shows off a laptop bag that can store the sun's energy

"You put the bag out into the sun, it generates an electrical charge, and then that charge is stored inside the battery," explained Shayne McQuade the boss of Voltaic Systems.

"The charge is always going to be here," he added, so the user can tap into the stored power when there is no sunshine.

Excessive product packaging was one of the big topics debated in the show's roundtable sessions.

Ron Gonen, CEO of RecycleBank ,asked the audience if they had bought a thumb drive in the last six months to a year.

"Were you actually shocked at the amount of packaging that the thumb drive came in?" he added.

David Thompson, from Japanese electronics group Panasonic, said his company is "very cost conscious" and packing is expensive.

"We do very often, talking about the thumb drive for example, over-package products," he admitted.

But products need to be protected and often firms simply "respond to a retailer request to make them more difficult to steal," he added.

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