A United Nations study has found that e-waste is on the rise, and not enough nations are doing something about it.
"Globally, e-waste is a huge problem and the environmental impact of our demand for the latest and greatest electronic items is going to cause this specific stream of waste to keep growing," said Claire Ruddy, executive director of Whistler's environmental advocacy group AWARE.
The study shows only 20 per cent of all e-waste gets recycled in the proper manner. However, return habits are much better in the Whistler area, compared to both the province and the globe.
The UN categorizes a number of products you might not consider under e-waste, including refrigerators, washing machines, power tools, and other small appliances. That makes getting a truly accurate reading of where Squamish and Whistler stand difficult.
Because of Recycle BC's Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), each producer of first importer of goods is responsible for collecting and recycling the products they supply into the marketplace. While EPR has been an effective program for the province, it means determining total e-waste returns for the area is difficult because the data is so fragmented.
However, using numbers for the region provided by EnCorp, Canadian Electrical Stewardship Association (CESA) and the Major Appliance Recycling Roundtable (MARR), it would appear the Squamish-Lillooet region recycled over 16 kilograms per capita of e-waste in 2016.
"We're fortunate here in Whistler to have easy collection of e-waste at the depots in Nesters and Function Junction. It comes as no surprise that our collection rates are higher than in other communities and also that there's a lot of care and attention paid to where our waste is going," said Ruddy.
EnCorp is responsible for most household electronics, like televisions, phones, computers, stereos, and medical monitoring devices. Their numbers for the Whistler area were strong in 2016, showing the community returned 4.8 kg per capita, compared to the 4.2 provincial average.
"There's a lot of greeny-keeners in that area. And I think that's why B.C. does well overall," said Craig Wisehart executive director of EnCorp for Western Canada. "We run the program in almost all provinces (minus Alberta), and B.C. and Nova Scotia rank right up near the top on kilo-per-capita return rates. They're fairly green thinking provinces."
As a whole, EnCorp's yearly tonnage of waste is falling, from over 23,000 tonnes returned in 2013 to under 20,000 this year. Wisehart suggested that's not a result of less recycling.
"That really all comes to the downsizing of electronics," he said. "That's good for the environment. When you look at the three Rs of recycling, it's reduce, reuse, recycle. Reduce is, can you put less into the market? That's really what the electronics industry is doing.
"The best examples are TVs. An old 36-inch picture-tube television, three people couldn't carry that thing down the stairs. Now you can put a 42-inch monitor under your arms and carry it up the stairs by yourself."
Though new electronics are easier to return than their bulky predecessors, they're also easier to break.
"We used to have these phones that you could literally bounce on the floor, they were made to be indestructible," said Ruddy. "Now you bounce your smartphone off the floor and you're going to have a big bill to pay. The nature of the products we're buying has changed. Maybe we need the items that are more robust and last."
The UN study has Canadians generating around 20 kg of e-waste per capita, so if that number holds true in Whistler, locals are recycling about 80-per-cent of e-waste properly, much higher than the international level. Although the study notes that just 66-per-cent of the world's population is covered by e-waste legislation.
There's value in recycling e-waste properly for nations beyond just the good of the planet. The study estimates that over US$55 million in recoverable deposits of gold, silver, copper, platinum, and other high value materials were thrown away as part of e-waste in 2016.