By Andrew Mitchell
One of the fastest growing and most challenging forms of waste in Canada is electronic waste. Many of the materials are toxic, the waste is non-biodegradable, and electronics are expensive and time-consuming to recycle.
As a result only a handful of private processors throughout the province would accept e-waste, and either charged consumers or their local district for taking the e-waste. They then attempted to recoup their costs by reselling the recycled materials.
On Aug. 1 the province delivered a new program to recycle e-waste, after approving a plan to recover waste this past December. Since Wednesday, retailers have been charging customers an end-of-life recycling fee at the time of purchase that will cover the cost of recycling electronic components and safely disposing of toxic materials.
After paying the fee, consumers will be able to drop off their electronics at designated collection sites without charge, including municipal dumping areas and, in some cases, the retailers themselves.
The Electronics Stewardship Association of B.C., which represents the majority of electronics producers selling products in B.C. such as Apple and IBM, has contracted Encorp Pacific to recycle the electronics. The Ministry of Environment is also accepting recycling and reuse plans from other organizations with the goal of collecting 100 per cent of certain types of electronic waste.
“Canadians discard over 140,000 tonnes of electronics each year, which places a sizeable burden on municipal landfills,” said Environment Minister Barry Penner. “That waste contains toxic metals like lead, mercury and cadmium, which can end up in surface and groundwater. Because those materials are valuable and reusable, old electronics are often illegally exported for salvage to developing countries with very poor labour practices. B.C.’s new regulations require industry to safeguard against such questionable activities.”
Joanna Pollard, manager of Altitude Computers in Whistler, supports the program as long as it is done properly.
“It’s a tough one for us,” she said. “It’s a great idea overall, as long as people understand it, and know what it’s all about. We don’t have an opinion on it because we haven’t seen it in action, and it hasn’t been around long enough to see what customers think.
“As long as we provide electronic waste recycling bins in town for people to dispose of their stuff, and people understand why the bins are there, then it could be a good thing.”
Scott Robertson from Whistler Audio Visual says they don’t have enough information themselves, or to share with their customers at this point.
“We’re concerned because there was very little information on this until the last couple of days when we found out we had to implement this,” he said. “There is some confusion from our clientele who are unsure of where the funds are going, and what they are applicable to.
“If government had provided us with the information well ahead of time, we could easily be proponents of (the recycling program) and informed our clients early on. We have people coming in today, and now we have to slap them in the face with this — when they ask ‘why’ we won’t have an answer for them. There is just no information, and that needs to be addressed to make sure the general public and businesses involved are aware of this and the reasons for it.”
At press time no e-waste recycling bins have been installed in Whistler. According to the Re-Use-It Centre, which will manage electronics recycling in Whistler, they are on their way.
Recycling Fees as of Aug. 1:
Desktop computers and accessories — $10
Computer monitors — $12
Notebook computers — $5
Desktop printers and fax machines — $8
Televisions — $15 to $45, depending on size.
* Not included in the program at this point are cell phones, stereos, portable music players, personal data assistants, home appliances, video game consoles, electronic toys, and other items. Those items are expected to be added in the near future.