By Andrew Mitchell
One of the fastest growing and challenging forms of consumer waste is electronic waste, or e-waste. A 2003 study by Environment Canada discovered that Canadians throw away 140,000 tonnes of computer equipment, phones, televisions, stereos, homes, and small appliances each year, or roughly 4.5 kilograms per person.
Three years later that statistic has almost certainly grown.
While landfill space is always a concern, one of the biggest issues of e-waste is a lot of waste materials are toxic, such as lead from monitors, lithium and cadmium from circuit boards and batteries, PCBs from circuit boards, and mercury from batteries and wiring. Various plastics used in electronics also carry toxic fire retardants. Even in small quantities these substances can be harmful to humans, animals and plants.
At the same time much of the material used in electronics is rare, valuable and can be recycled for a small cost. Although there is no mandatory program in place just yet, the B.C. government announced in December plans for an e-waste recycling system.
Starting in June companies that manufacture and sell electronics in B.C. and Canada will be required to charge a recycling fee up front, while the province will set up a network of permanent and mobile collection services throughout the province. All the companies that process these materials will have to comply with standards developed by Electronic Products Stewardship Canada. Auditors will work to ensure companies are meeting those standards with regular inspections.
For the Sea to Sky region, the only company offering e-waste recycling is Chiefs Metals Agency (CMA) of Squamish, which is holding a free e-waste collection day in Whistler to launch the company, in cooperation with the Resort Municipality of Whistler.
According to the company website, CMA is certified, will offer a pick-up and drop-off service to its Willow Crescent shop, and will handle the preliminary sorting and dismantling before shipping materials off for recycling. For people concerned about data stored on their personal electronic devices, CMA also offers complete physical data destruction.
Whistler’s e-waste collection days are Jan. 19-20, from 9 a.m.
to 3 p.m. at either the Nesters or Function Junction compactor sites. All
audio-visual equipment, electronics, CDs, DVDs and scrap metal will be
accepted, including household items like stoves and toasters. Unlike previous
residential e-waste collection days, businesses are also invited to bring their
electronic waste to CMA.
The only items CMA cannot accept are fridges and freezers.
“From time to time we build some of our own e-waste and have a
difficult time finding a home for it,” explained Ron Sander, manager of
operations at the RMOW. “Guenter Frankenberg of CMA approached us about six
months ago to let us know that he was moving towards opening a facility in
Squamish that can handle e-waste, and that he was interested in partnering up
with us to see if together we can remove some of this stuff that would wind up
in the waste stream to the landfill.
“There will be fees down the road to dispose of some stuff, but
we’re still a few months away from when that kicks in in June, and it’s usually
pretty reasonable. It’s a pretty responsible thing to do.”
According to Sander the municipality is talking to Carney’s
Waste Systems about the possibility of offering regular e-waste bins or
collection at municipal sites. There is a cost to recycling the e-waste, but
after June at least some of that cost will be covered up front in the purchase
B.C. surcharges are expected to be similar to Alberta’s, with
televisions in the range of $15 to $45 depending on size. Laptops are $5,
desktop computers $10, printers $8 and computer monitors $12. Other electronic
devices, such as cell phones and AV equipment, will be priced accordingly.
The money collected by recyclers and stores will help to subsidize the recycling costs of processors, which will also make up a portion of their costs by reselling the materials they collect for reuse in other products.