Thursday, December 25, 2008

OTTAWA NEWS

Today's new gadget gift could be tomorrow's e-waste


BY JORDANA HUBER DECEMBER 25, 2008




Environment Canada estimates more than 157,000 tonnes of electronics were sent to landfills in 2002 — including TVs, computers, printers, cellphones, audio and video equipment, and home appliances.
Photograph by : Bruce Edwards/Edmonton Journal
TORONTO — Thousands of televisions, computers, cellphones and other electronic gadgets will be relegated to obsolete status during the holiday season as gift-giving brings new technology to homes across the country.

Some of those "old" electronics will find a second life through donations or recycling programs, but most will sit in basements or drawers before being sent to landfill or exported overseas.

"It's a growing problem," said Shirley Thompson, an assistant professor at the University of Manitoba Natural Resources Institute.

"These items contain toxic metals and other chemicals and often they are ending up in landfills."

Environment Canada estimates more than 157,000 tonnes of electronics were sent to landfills in 2002 — including TVs, computers, printers, cellphones, audio and video equipment, and home appliances.

By 2010, that number is expected to rise to 206,000 tonnes.

Televisions are the largest source of e-waste, followed by desktop computers and monitors. Studies in Europe have estimated 40 per cent of the lead found in landfills comes from e-waste, Thompson said.

An estimated 4,750 tonnes of lead is contained in computers and televisions disposed of each year, according to Environment Canada.

Hazardous and toxic materials found in electronic waste have been linked to reproductive, neurological and development disorders, according to Environment Canada.

Improper disposal or handling during recycling can allow toxic substances to contaminate the soil, groundwater and air.

But instead of throwing electronics in the trash, the emphasis should first be on reuse then recycling, says Ifny Lachance, who runs Free Geek, a non-profit computer reuse and recycling centre in Vancouver.

"We have to get ambitious," said Lachance. "It's basically a question of harm reduction."

According to Statistics Canada, more than a third of households across the country store unused or obsolete computers and communication devices before discarding them. When they do clean house, just under 25 per cent dispose of them at special waste depots or return them to suppliers; almost one in five put them in the garbage; and just over one-third said they did not know what to do with them.

"People have this idea when you throw garbage away, it disappears and we're finding through the century a lot of things are catching up with us," Lachance said.

In Canada, e-waste is a provincial issue and most provinces are moving toward electronics stewardship programs.

Alberta was the first to implement an electronics recycling program in 2004.

Saskatchewan, British Columbia and Nova Scotia also divert some of their electronics from landfill through industry-operated stewardship arrangements.

This spring, Ontario will become the latest province to begin a recycling program for some electronics. According to the province, 27 per cent of e-waste is reused or recycled annually.

The rest is landfilled or exported overseas with "unknown environmental and human health implications," according to a report from Waste Diversion Ontario, a non-Crown corporation set up to develop and to operate recycling programs for the province.

Ontario's new recycling program will include a tracking and audit system to ensure materials sent to primary processing facilities are not transported to "downstream processors" who don't meet environmental safety standards equal to provincial requirements and international obligations, the report said.

TVs, computers, monitors and printers will be collected through charities and municipal depots and sent to consolidation sites before being shipped to approved processors.

Manitoba and Quebec also are working toward regulations to manage their mounds of e-waste.

Ottawa is also a signatory to the Basel convention, an international treaty banning the shipment of hazardous waste from developed to developing countries.

But that hasn't stopped discarded electronics from around the world from ending up in Africa or in China, where lax regulations are creating burgeoning environmental and health concerns.

Josh Lepawsky, a geography professor at Memorial University in Newfoundland and Labrador, who studies the global trade of e-waste, said there is still nothing stopping "recyclers" who are not part of the provincial systems from collecting e-waste and shipping it overseas.

"Across the country, the way the legislation is written, it more or less guarantees it is going to undermine its own intentions and create a parallel stream of waste," Lepawsky said.

"If you choose not to participate, you won't have any access to the financing being offered through the programs but you can still collect the material and sell it to brokers who may or may not be collecting a profit shipping it overseas," he said.

2 comments:

James said...

Wow, the more I read about this, the scarier it gets. The numbers are rising at the alarming rate. It's high time that people start thinking about recycling seriously.

There are many free classifieds in Ottawa like http://www.kijiji.ca and http://www.khrido.com/ that can be used to sell used stuff instead of throwing them away.

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