E-cycling time has come

It makes sense that the preponderance of this nation’s tree-huggers reside on the West Coast. Folks out there tend to be more in tune with their natural surroundings and when it comes to trees they just have a whole lot more to lose than most of the rest of us.

So it also makes sense that Vancouver-based

music and electronics retailer A&B Sound accepted old computers, peripherals, televisions and cellphones from user/owners looking to dispose of them in an environmentally sound way. The recycling program is expected to cost the company about $10,000. Twenty-one outlets in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba participated in the one-day drive on May 10.

More on the details later, now a little background.

Back in January I was lamenting the unending buildup of technology garbage in offices and homes throughout the country, and for that matter the world, which is primarily a case of not knowing how the heck to safely do away with all the obsolete stuff. Sure we can send it to the office building’s dumpster or put it at the curbside with the weekly supply of green bags, but those of us with a conscience can’t help but wonder where it’s going to end up. Should we just let it amass in our office storage closets, or at home in the basement, or do we trust the waste management professionals to do the right thing with it? Doing the right thing basically means not burying it or sinking it somewhere that will do a lot more harm than just letting it moulder in the garage.

Back in January, www.itbusiness.ca reported that not even the chairman of Waste Diversion Ontario (WDO) is sure of how he will dispose of a couple of non-functioning monitors that are kicking around his house. “”I don’t know what to do with them,”” said Tim Moore. “”I would guess it goes into landfill.””

And because of all of the other garbage Moore’s agency has to deal with, he said at the time it would take until 2005 before his people could get around to meeting with the IT sector to develop a strategy for the collection and safe disposal of unwanted equipment filled with potentially toxic materials.

By the time WDO gets around to it, according to Environment Canada, 67,000 tonnes of computer equipment will be dumped somewhere and 30 per cent of it will be monitors which are the dirtiest part of a PC.

The solution must come from manufacturers, and must therefore involve distributors, resellers and retailers, such as A&B Sound.

The company expects to receive 75 tonnes of e-waste, a fraction of the thousands of tonnes dumped every year in Canada.

In the company’s first drive last year it collected 50 tonnes and customers have clamoured for them to do it again. It will cost A&B Sound about 44 cents a kilogram to recycle the equipment, which will be shipped to Maxus Technology Inc. in Alberta, to be stripped and smelted to recover materials that can be reused.

A 2000 study done by Environment Canada’s pollution prevention office showed that 35,000 tonnes of e-waste ends up in Canadian landfills every year, a number that’s expected to double by 2005. That doesn’t include TVs and VCRs.

The study says e-pollution is taking up room in landfills and there is the concern that the toxic material in this equipment – lead, cadmium, mercury – could leach out.

To its credit, in March the Canadian technology industry formed a non-profit organization to develop a recycling system and convince provinces to pass legislation supporting it. With funding from companies such as Apple and Canon, Electronic Products Stewardship Canada consulted with all provincial environment ministries on the issue. It just completed talks and said it is ready to start working on a plan for Quebec.

It could cost more than $1 billion to get a national stewardship program started. Computers need to be put into a smelter, an expensive process, and there aren’t enough facilities in Canada to handle all the waste. But the above mentioned initiatives are at least and important start on a huge and growing problem.

So go out there and hug a tree. Then hug that long dead 486 one last time, and do the right thing.

James Buchok is a former editor of Computer Dealer News and Computing Canada and he is now based in Winnipeg. jbuchok@mts.net

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