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Explainer: Great green tech gifts for everyone

  • Gadgets that create no waste and are powered by entirely good intentions may remain wishful thinking, but innovative electronics makers are exploring renewable energy, recycled materials. and energy-saving features. Whether your budget is high or low, these eco-savvy tech toys are made to please tech enthusiasts who want cleaner, greener gadgets.

  • Sounds green

    For $15, you can get Universal DIY Speakers in a plug-and-play cardboard design from Merkury Innovations. The company's $20 Eco Boombox is made from unused packaging that would otherwise have been thrown away.

  • Eton FR160B Microlink Radio

    Make like the Boy Scout motto, and "be prepared." The next time a camping trip (or natural disaster) leaves you in the dark, you can tune into this radio, which gets a charge from a hand crank or from solar power. The multitasking, compact device includes NOAA weather channels as well as AM/FM reception; it also has a an LED flashlight and can charge a cell phone. The Red Cross model is red, or you can opt for basic black, each priced at around $30.

  • Owleye Solar Bike Light

    If you’re riding around outdoors anyway, why not charge your bike light from the sun and forget the disposable batteries? This solar-powered, water-resistant headlight from Owleye costs around $80 and comes in white or black. Tail lights are priced at around $20. The LED headlamps provide more than 200 lumens of light and are built to illuminate objects at distances of up to 33 feet ahead. If you’re low on sunlight for a needed charge, you can plug the headlight into another device via mini USB to power up.

  • Recompute Cardboard PC

    You don't have to encase your desktop in polluting plastic. These customizable Recompute PCs are housed in corrugated cardboard held together by nontoxic white glue. You can order them for between $500 and $1,000 with Windows 7, Linux, or no preinstalled operating system.

  • Energizer Universal Charger

    A technophile can never have too many batteries. But since disposable batteries pollute landfills, rechargeable batteries are a better, longer-lasting option. The Energizer Universal Compact Battery Charger can provide juice to AA, AAA, C, D, and 9-volt batteries. It costs around $35 and fits easily into a tote bag or purse.

  • Brunton Solar Chargers

    Brunton makes rugged solar chargers for smart phones, digital cameras, and other handheld devices. The Freedom (left) costs $96 and the folding Restore goes for $124. Though many other off-grid gadget chargers crowd the market, we like Brunton's simple, waterproof design.

  • Eco Town

    If you don't want your kids to play dirty, you can invest in the $200 Eco Town from Plan Toys. It includes imaginary solar panels, recycling facilities, a charging station for electric cars, and a wind turbine. The kit is made of nontoxic materials such as organic rubber wood.

  • NatureMill Composter

    As more municipalities support composting, more people are purchasing countertop pails or crocks to hold kitchen scraps. But the NatureMill Composter goes a step further by brewing garden-ready fertilizer from scraps of meat, veggies, and coffee grounds within two weeks. Its makers say that the contraption expends only 50 cents' worth of energy a month. The new XE model includes a beefed-up motor and carbon filter.

  • ATP EarthDrive

    This is the first recyclable USB drive — thanks to plant-based PLA plastics. But don't fear that the gadget will crumble and biodegrade while on the job: The waterproof drive is built to last a decade. Each drive provides between 1 GB and 16 GB of storage space, and enables password protection to keep your data safe at your fingertips. A portion of the sale price — $16 to $70, depending on capacity — goes to fund tree planting, thanks to the nonprofit American Forests.

  • Volt-star Eco Charger

    This charger shuts off when it has finished recharging a cell phone or other 5-volt gizmo, so it doesn't consume unnecessary "vampire" power. It costs $32 — or $34 with an Apple adapter.

  • Belkin Conserve Line

    Belkin produces a Conserve line of energy-saving gadgets. Plug a device into the $29 Conserve Insight (above, left), and it calculates the item's electricity costs. Also priced at $29, the Smart AV power strip (right) cuts the power to connected peripherals when you shut down the main machine, such as a PC or TV. The $39 Conserve Valet (bottom) charges up to four mobile devices at the same time. The $10 Socket (not pictured) is a simple power-timer outlet.

  • More green tech gifts from PCWorld:

    Logitech Solar Keyboard
    Joby Gorillapod
    Voltaic Solar Backpack
    Sony GreenHeart phones
    Keyboard Jewelry
    Thinksound Wood Headphones

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