The whole world has been noodling on how to green up everything we do, and the clever designers behind your favorite gadgets are no different. But like your last brainstorming session at work, you know that some ideas really work and some are dead on arrival.
Aspiring gadgeteers have submitted their best ideas to Core77's 2nd annual Greener Gadgets Design Competition and thousands of viewers have voted for their favorite energy-saving, awareness-building and straight-up goofy green tech concepts.
Here are 12 more that caught our eye. For better or worse.
1. Blink Controller
The Blink combines a small solar cell with a wall plug, using the ambient light to control whether or not the device that's plugged in is on. Once the sun comes up, it'll turn off (or on) anything plugged into it.
How It's Green: The Blink not only tackles the wasted-power issue by turning off unused electrical devices, it also uses solar technology — in this case a small, flexible solar cell — to read the time of day.
Will It Ever Be Made? Already an elegant solution to a problem of human laziness, it could also replace those bulky timers you use when you want your house to look lived-in while you're away.
2. Power-Hog Energy Meter
This plug-in piggy bank works like coin-operated power-consumption meter. You plug the pig's tail into an outlet, and plug whatever gadget you like into its snout. Deposit a quarter and you get 30 minutes of use.
How It's Green: The Power-Hog itself is made out recycled PET (a.k.a. soda bottles) and that makes it 100% recyclable. But its real green edge is in the awareness it creates in its users.
Will It Ever Be Made? Maybe. It could be popular with parents; imagine dads everywhere saying: "You can only watch a quarter's worth of Clone Wars tonight."
3. Inlet-Outlet Wall Plug
The Inlet-Outlet provides both a typical power outlet and an incoming plug, or "Inlet," to let you put power into your home as well. Send power generated from a small wind turbine outside or convert "kinetic energy producers," like your home exercise equipment, into power generators.
How It's Green: Truth is that there's a lot of wasted energy all around us. The Inlet-Outlet taps this idea of using kinetic energy to get off the grid — and maybe even sell excess power generated by your workout back into the grid.
Will It Ever Be Made? The Inlet-Outlet's coolness factor also limits it, unless you really like that old party trick of pedaling your stationary bike while your family watches your sweat-powered TV. What's needed to make this a breakout idea are the "nuts and bolts" of in-home power generation: effective storage for generated energy, inverters for plug-in solar panels if you choose, and so on.
4. Zeer Cooler
The Zeer's simple food-cooling system puts one earthenware pot inside another, separated by a layer of sand. Add water to the sand, and place a damp cloth on top of the pots. The water is drawn through the outer earthenware pot by capillary action and evaporation of the water from the outside pot cools the temperature of the inside pot.
How It's Green: It's hard to reduce your power use any lower than zero. And you could make the Zeer from components that could be as sexy or as functional as you like. Perfect for the greenie in your life, whether they live in Manhattan or northern Maine woods.
Will It Ever Be Made? An age-old concept brought from Nigeria, the Zeer is a great example of "aidtech," like the d.light. These gadgets are built to be off the grid because the grid is usually nowhere near where they're used, so they're green and tough by necessity. But at its best, the Zeer only gets down to 50°F, so it'll never replace a refrigerator.
5. CompostAll Food Disposal
The CompostAll replaces your in-sink garbage disposal, allowing food waste to be composted instead of flushed into the sewer. It works like a standard garbage disposal, but saves the mulched food waste in a removable container under the sink. An alert light on the sink-top power button lets you know when it needs emptying into your compost bin.
How It's Green: This is great for home composters or city dwellers with a compost pickup. It's also easier on your city's water system because solids from your garbage disposal — like those from your toilet — must be separated from water during treatment.
Will It Ever Be Made? With the right pricing, this is an ideal green product: it works elegantly, without consuming a lot of energy or requiring its lazy/clueless owner to do anything very differently than they do now. You empty it like a trash can when it tells you, and you take some pressure of your local waste stream in the bargain.
6. Bware Water Meter
Attach the Bware to a shower or kitchen tap and presto, you can see just how much water you use for your morning shower or a sinkload of dishes. It also uses the hydropower to stay charged up, like a micro-Hoover Dam.
How It's Green: The Bware is made from recycled plastics itself, but its main green advantage is as an educational tool to show you just how much water you consume. A later version promises a Wi-Fi connection and logging software, so you can waste a lot of power keeping detailed spreadsheets about years and years of showers.
Will It Ever Be Made? Awareness is great, and Bware may be a hit in classrooms around the country, but it would have limited impact in greening your life, since it doesn't actually save you water. You still need to act on the data you gain from Bware.
7. Harddrive USB Storage Device
Harddrive is a USB flash drive entombed in concrete, like a Mafioso who was caught sitting down with the FBI. So when you finally throw this away, its heavy metals won't leach into your landfill.
How It's Green: It isn't. Awareness of the serious issue of e-waste is growing, but encasing e-waste in concrete to remind us of this environmental hazard doesn't help that.
Will It Ever Be Made? No. This annoying toy actually mocks users about the environmental impact of their gadgets. It's the faux-green equivalent to that singing bass on a plaque.
8. Indoor Drying Rack
Made of bamboo laminate and recycled aluminum, this Ikea-esque clothes rack has a design that's clean and simple. It ships flat, adjusts easily, and recycles well. Bamboo is also mold and mildew resistant — crucial if you're draping your wet socks on it all the time.
How It's Green: Beyond its recyclability, there's the significant savings of mothballing your gas- or electricity-powered clothes dryer, which costs about $85 a year to operate. Hanging your own clothes is still free and better for the planet
Will It Ever Be Made? The design is fetching — it sure beats looking at a line of boxers stretching from your balcony to a nearby phone pole. But can it handle a heavy, wet hoodie like the kids all wear today? Durability could be the biggest challenge.
9. PpMm Shreddable Paper
Pre-perforated marketing materials — or PpMm — lets you shred easily without the shredder. You print your marketing materials on PpMm paper, with its dozens of intersecting perforations, and jam it in mailboxes as usual. Recipients of said junk mail soon find it's easier to tear up and dump in the recycling bin.
How It's Green: While it saves the recipient the cost of buying and running a shredder, if every corporation used PpMm, it could make a difference in two ways. The first is that picking up smaller and smaller pieces of paper means recycling trucks can pack more paper in, resulting in fewer truck trips. And it could keep more paper out of landfills, since some people actually believe that throwing sensitive material into the trash can whole protects their identity better than putting it in the recycling bin, torn up or not.
Will It Ever Be Made? It could, depending on how many companies think it's green. Still, as a recipient, you may be better served by stopping junk mail before it ever gets to you.
10. Takeup Reusable Computer Housing
Takeup rethinks ubiquitous PC housing case. Rather than use cheap plastics fused to flimsy metal components, the Takeup uses aluminum sheet sections and textiles that can be customized, assembled, disassembled and reused like Lego.
How It's Green: Takeup uses "sole materials," meaning each component is made of one kind of material. That makes it more reusable, and, at the end of its lifecycle, more easily recycled. This tackles the biggest issue of e-waste — the energy needed and pollution created to take apart materials made of fused metals, plastics and glass. Takeup's modular design also allows you to vent your PC more effectively and shorten your fan usage, the biggest consumer of power in your computer.
Will It Ever Be Made? Takeup needs to be picked up by a computer manufacturer who wants a green line of computers with an intelligent take-back program. For now, this a product aimed at people who build their own PCs, a pretty small audience.
11. Tweet-a-Watt Power Meter
The Tweet-a-Watt is a hack to a Kill-A-Watt power meter that will wirelessly tweet your daily power usage to whoever really wants to know.
How It's Green: The power-monitoring Kill-a-Watt was already green, but the Tweet-a-Watt takes that over the top. This idea will devolve into competitions with other Tweet-a-Watters… who then access their Twitter accounts obsessively to see who's winning, thereby consuming all the power they've saved and more.
Will It Ever Be Made? The annoyance of Twitter meets the sanctimony of being greener than everyone you know. Just save some energy and be done with it.
12. Wind-Helmet Power Generator
The Wind-Helmet is a windmill-in-your-hat. Wind flows over the helmet, through the propeller in the rear, and stores energy in a set of rechargeable batteries for later use.
How It's Green: From the Solio to the Kinesis, there are plenty of green power chargers out there, keeping disposable batteries out of landfills. But the Wind-Helmet means one less single-use gadget gets made, since we assume you'll be taking a helmet anyway.
Will It Ever Be Made? Yes, assuming it does its helmet duties as well as it generates power. For short jaunts, this kills two birds with one stone in a (relatively) unobtrusive design.