British Columbians could soon be paying extra for every desktop computer and printer they buy, to cover the cost of recycling the equipment when it’s eventually junked.
The B.C. government has announced its intention to add various types of electronic equipment to the provincial recycling regulations.
“The lead in your old television screen or in your computer screen does pose a potential threat to the environment,” according to Christine Houghton, an official with the Environment Ministry’s environmental management branch.
The government estimates that about 70 per cent of the materials in computers can be recycled. This includes copper, silver, gold, platinum, palladium, steel, aluminum, glass and plastic.
In the Greater Vancouver Regional District alone, about 12,000 tonnes of computer equipment was disposed of in 2004, up by 33 per cent from 2001, according to an April 15, 2005 report to the district’s waste management committee.
The fees—which have yet to be determined—would be designed to remove the cost of recycling from general taxes and municipal property taxes, instead placing it on the electronic industry and consumers.
“Industry could do that by putting an external fee on it, so you see that fee,” Houghton said in an interview. B.C. buyers of many kinds of paint and pesticides now pay a fee of this kind, to cover recycling costs.
Another possibility is that the industry could internalize the fee, in the same way it internalizes manufacturing and other costs, Houghton added.
To begin with, the government plans to include computers, monitors, desktop printers and televisions in the recycling regulations. In the future, stereo equipment, cell phones and even small appliances may be added to the program.
The B.C. government recently concluded a 30-day consultation review process, receiving several dozen responses, she said.
“The hope is that it begins sooner rather than later,” Houghton said.
The size of the fees will be decided only following consultation with the electronic industry, she said.
However, the industry would likely prefer that B.C.’s fees be comparable to those now in place in Alberta.
“It’s in their best interests to have similar fee sets,” Houghton said.
The fees will help assure consumers that they are being environmentally responsible, she added.
“You know it’s going to be dealt with properly at the end of its life, and not going into landfill,” Houghton said. “It’s just a better way of doing it.”
At present, Alberta is the only Canadian jurisdiction to have an e-cycling program up and running. Since February 1, 2005, Albertans have paid a $25 environmental fee for every television between 19 and 29 inches they buy, and $30 for a desktop computer.
For smaller televisions, the fee is $15, while larger ones cost up to $45. The fee for monitors, either LCD or CRT, is $12. Buyers of printers pay $8, and purchasers of laptop and notebook computers are charged $5.
The fees cover the cost of collection, transportation and recycling of electronic items, as well as public information programs and research into recycling.
Municipalities collect waste electronics for recycling at registered sites, which are then sent to processors.
As of August 31, more than 45,000 desktops had been collected, along with about 1,600 laptops, 26,000 printers, nearly 50,000 monitors and about 21,000 televisions.
By the end of August, the program had processed 2,152 tonnes of material, including 762 tonnes of steel and ferrous metal, and 186 tonnes of plastics.
Glass from CRTs is sent to specialized U.S. glass recyclers, while circuit boards are shipped to processors to recover gold, copper and other metals.
Only 81 tonnes of “residue”—consisting of wooden television consoles, packing material, diskettes, and similar material, was sent to landfill.
According to Environment Canada, in 1999, discarded personal computer equipment was estimated to contain more than 1,300 tonnes of lead, two tonnes of cadmium and a half-tonne of mercury.
Leading Canadian manufacturers, including Sony of Canada Ltd., Apple Canada Inc. and Canon Canada Inc. have formed Electronic Products Stewardship Canada, to develop a national “end-of-life” program for electronic products.