Alberta company offers drive-through computer recycling

If you live anywhere near the Currie Barracks in Calgary you won’t even have to get out of your car. Anyone wishing to dispose of used IT equipment can simply pull up, wait for the staff at Recycle-Logic Inc. to come running out and they’ll cart it away.

Businesses have it even easier. They simply phone, and Recycle-Logic will pick up shrink-wrapped or packaged products that would otherwise head for landfills. But it’s the drive-through idea that has helped the fledging firm, which employs only a handful of people, build up a business that collected about 200 tons of product last month and 300 tons the month before that.

“It’s near the Farmer’s Market, and we see a lot of traffic through there,” said Laurie Parsons, Recycle-Logic’s director of operations. “We figured it would be good for people who didn’t want to traipse about in the snow for us to lift it out of the car for them.”

Recycle-Logic is one of five companies qualified under the province’s electronics waste reduction program, which is coordinated by the Alberta Recycling Manamagent Authority. So far, more than 100 municipal sites have been set up to process the disposal of computers, printers, monitors and televisions free of charge. About a year ago, Alberta also instituted fees on computer products ranging from $5 to $12 to offset the cost of the program. Although other provinces are weighing their e-waste options, Alberta is considered the first in Canada to implement such a comprehensive electronic recycling effort. So far, more than 63,000 monitors, 60,000 computers, 33,500 printers have been recycled in Alberta since the beginning of the ARMA and Alberta Government Electronic Recycling Program.

Parsons said Recycle-Logic, which this week extended its hours of operation to seven days a week, started offering services long before the ARMA program. Although it is paid on a per-ton basis, high gas prices are increasing transportation costs that make it difficult to achieve profitability, she added.

“I think we just managed to stop eating macaroni and cheese last week,” she joked. “It’s funded on a level that’s just past the break-even point. I think (the government) didn’t know how to fund it.”

Alberta Environment conducted consultations with a number of stakeholders, including retailers, suppliers and industry associations – to come up with a financial model that made sense. The first review of the program was done last spring, and eventually she said ARMA may expand the list of what’s eligible for recycling under the program, though it is not actively recruiting more businesses to take part.

“There’s no set capacity (in terms of the number of recyclers),” she said. “It’s a business that anyone, as long as you’re meeting the criteria, could get into.”

Once the used IT is collected, companies like Recycle-Logic send it to their plant in Red Deer, where the components are remarketed as commodities. The plastic in a PC is sold to a plastics manufacturer, for example, or metal to a metal dealer. Parsons said 95 per cent of what passes through its plant is turned into another product. Anything deemed ineligible for recycling is shredded.

Although computers and TVs make up a large portion of what’s collected, printers are also a regular item, Parsons said. “People feel it’s cheaper to buy a new printer than it is to buy ink,” she said. “All those flat screen monitors and other new screens are also driving a lot of the (monitor) donations.”

Non-profit organizations such as the Electronic Recycling Association of Alberta initially applauded the effort to reduce the IT in landfills, but it has since called for a halt on the ARMA program due to the volume of working products that could have benefited poor or disadvantaged people.

“Now they’re giving usable computers, Pentium IIIs, working monitors to recyclers,” said Bojan Paduh, an ERA director. “We thought the program was just to recycle the garbage and not all the thousands of computers that schools, hospitals and other people can still use.”

Paduh claims the ARMA has been sending letters to oil companies and other enterprises urging them to dispose of equipment through the recyclers, but Veno said the program was primarily aimed for residential users. Large companies tend to clog up the system with their large volumes, she said, and many of them already send old equipment to charities such as computers for schools.

“We do very much support and encourage reuse,” she said. “It’s not always within the scope of our area of expertise because there are a lot of organizations in Alberta and elsewhere are getting these materials and reselling them. That is a very viable business.”

Reuse also requires major educational efforts, Veno added, because users need to make sure old IT doesn’t contain any of their personal information, and that the equipment is used responsibly.

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