Politicians dither as e-waste grows, but industry moves on

One year after Dave Betts lobbied the federal government to legislate a nation-wide computer recycling program, his dream is no closer to becoming a reality.

At that point, Betts was the interim program manager of e-recycling for the Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC). And even

though he’s still a member of the Ottawa-based ITAC’s executive team, Betts now presides over Electronics Product Stewardship of Canada (EPS Canada), a multi-stakeholder initiative consisting of 16 electronics companies whose mission is to address the end-of-life management of IT and consumer electronic products.

“”The (federal) government says it doesn’t have any money to finance (this project), so does that mean we have to go out and negotiate with the more than 5,000 municipalities in Canada?”” Betts says. “”That doesn’t make sense. We’d prefer to establish one set price for each category of equipment across the country.””

To date, no federal legislation exists in Canada to deal with e-waste, and that means discarded computer and electronic equipment is piling up in Canadian landfills. Canada disposed of an estimated 36,933 tonnes of PCs and monitors alone in 1999, according to Environment Canada. Recent figures in EnviroZine, the agency’s online newsmagazine, indicate more than 140,000 tonnes of computer equipment accumulates in Canadian landfills annually.

EPS Canada (comprised of Apple, Canon, Hewlett-Packard Canada, IBM Canada, Lexmark, and others) has partnered with the Electro-Federation of Canada, a consumer electronics industry association, to create a program that manages e-waste – PCs, laptops, printers.

Additional products will be added to the hit list in time.

“”We’re doing what we’re doing because half a dozen provinces are set to implement legislation to deal with this issue and we have to be ready,”” Betts says. “”Canada and the U.S. don’t have a recycling culture as they do in Europe.””

Betts says EPS Canada is working in conjunction with Ottawa and the provinces on the issue, but he says the number of provincial elections slated to be held across Canada this year is holding the organization’s plans in limbo.

EPS Canada has identified four required phases to introduce a national e-waste program: Policies defining the problem and the creation of a national roadmap for e-waste management; establishing industry support; creating a detailed national strategy and governance; and, the implementation stage.

Betts says he’s pleased the group has reached the third rung on the ladder and it’s set to implement the program. But there is significant cost involved with establishing and running that program.

“”The provinces won’t force municipalities to collect e-waste,”” he says.

Cost is a big issue in the recycling game. EPS Canada has mulled over the possibility of helping finance the program by imposing environmental levies on its member’s products. It has been suggested that users will be charged between $2-7 for new laptops, printers and other peripherals. Betts says EPS Canada hasn’t proposed a specific levy on any product yet.

“”No one likes to take a tax hit or pay additional fees, but it’s a requirement someone has to pay for,”” he says.

Computer refurbishing initiatives is another option that’s been exercised in the past few years. Programs such as Computers for Schools, which encourages the reuse of older electronic products, is just one of a number of initiatives that focus efforts on recycling corporate PCs.

To date, the Computers for Schools program has refurbished over 426,000 computers. Led by the Government of Canada, CFS operates in co-operation with all provinces and territories, the private sector as well as thousands of volunteers.

“”In some ways, CFS prevents e-waste,”” says Ross McLeod, director general for Ottawa-based Computers for Schools. “”We reuse a lot of material as we rebuilt more than 70,000 computers last year, but we have a lot of waste of our own.

To try and reduce that, the agency is running a pilot program at its Hull workstation where recyclers will be connected with potential users of e-waste byproducts.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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