By Andrew Mitchell
A Squamish-based e-waste recycling company has been successful in its campaign to install electronic waste collection bins throughout the Sea to Sky corridor, with approval to install a system in Whistler this past week.
A collection bin was installed at the Pemberton transfer station in February, and has been operating out of the Chief’s Metal Agency facility in Squamish since the New Year. The Whistler bin is located at the transfer station in Function Junction, and will accept all residential e-waste, such as phones, computers, monitors, televisions, stereos, and portable devices. A full list of items is available on the CMA website, www.cma-magnet.com . The website is in the process of being updated, but should be completed soon.
CMA cannot accept large appliances at this point, and asks that the commercial sector arrange pickup of e-waste with the company for a small fee. Accepting commercial waste at the bins would overwhelm the collection system, says CMA owner and operator Guenter Frankenberg.
CMA has been in operation since 2000, and Frankenberg announced plans to accept and process e-waste in the New Year. His family has owned and operated scrap processing plants in Germany for the past 50 years, expanding into e-waste to meet the commitments of government.
While there are no standards for e-waste processing in Canada, something both the federal and provincial government are planning, Frankenberg says the Squamish facility has been designed to meet the European standards, which may be tougher than Canadian standards.
“The big idea is to avoid sending any more e-waste to the landfills,” said Frankenberg, adding that the popularity of the collection sites has already been enough to allow him to hire a full-time employee much faster than he initially planned.
“I’m amazed at the response,” he said. “When we held the e-waste day back in January, it was very busy, and about 95 per cent of the people I spoke to said there should be a permanent collection system in place in Whistler. After talking to the municipality and Janet MacDonald at the Re-Use-It Centre, this quickly became a reality.”
In 2003 it was estimated that the average Canadian produced 4.5 kilograms of e-waste per year, a quantity that has doubled over the previous 10 years. The quantity may be over 5 kilograms at this point.
With a full-time resident population of close to 10,000 people, Whistler residents and businesses could generate 50 tonnes of e-waste per year.
The problem with e-waste is that many of the materials going into the landfill are toxic, including lead, lithium, cadmium, PCBs, and mercury. They also take up a lot of space, at a time when waste disposal is becoming a growing issue for urban areas across Canada. Whistler currently has to ship its waste to Washington state, due to the lack of a viable alternative within the coastal region of the province.
However, for Frankenberg the biggest problem with e-waste is that the majority of it can be recycled and reused, once items are disassembled, sorted, and resold to processors. He estimates than 95 per cent of materials can be recovered, including 100 per cent of items like old computer monitors.
Frankenberg’s business model is based on reselling the materials that he has collected to processors around the Lower Mainland. He would also like to see local governments pay a share of the cost, at least the same tonnage rate applied to other forms of waste. There is also a potential to make money from e-waste disposal taxes that are being considered when you purchase electronic goods.
Frankenberg thought it would take longer to find processors to handle different types of waste he collects, and was amazed to find that there was a demand for almost everything.
“Some of these materials are very expensive to buy and difficult to produce, and these companies are keen to see e-waste programs across the province,” he said.
All of the separation of materials will be done at CMA’s shop in Squamish, and materials that can’t be recycled will be disposed of safely.