Monday, July 20, 2009


Published: 2009-07-18

Reboot Hill: Where electronics go to die

Atlantic Canada Electronics Stewardship recycled 2,000 tonnes of devices last year

By BILL POWER Business Reporter

THERE SHOULD BE A warning sign at the entrance to the FCM Recycling plant in Elmsdale to alert computer geeks and TV freaks to the horrors they are about to witness.

The electronics recycling operation, which employs about 20 people, is where digital devices of all sizes and descriptions come to die.

It is the end of the line for old telephones, discarded laptop computers, redundant fax machines, out-of-date computers, oversized televisions from the 1980s, clunky-looking VCRs and connecting cables of every description.

Bins and skids loaded with computer mice, modems, motherboards and monitors fill FCM’s warehouse in the East Hants Industrial Park, even though it looks big enough to hold a passenger jet or two.

"This is stock that has accumulated after only a few weeks," director Mitchell Rothstein said Friday during a walkabout.

Electronic devices are the fastest-growing source of waste in North America, he said.

Remember those early big-screen TVs that cost thousands of dollars and were bought after months of careful deliberation? They are carefully reduced to piles of electronic rubble in seconds.

How about those gigantic home computer systems with the monster-sized monitors that were the pride of many households in the days before the Internet? They suffer a fate in the recycling process that would make their former owners cringe.

Off comes the steel case, out comes the motherboard and other digital components containing precious metals. And then the chopping begins.

There seems to be a big storage box for every digital component that ever occupied space in an electronics store. There are also big bins filled with various types of plastics and aluminum all over the plant.

Labels and documentation follow most of the material to Quebec for additional refining, Mr. Rothstein said.

"Nova Scotia consumers pay an environmental handling fee when they purchase an electronic device, and it is our job to make sure the recycling process is handled correctly," he said.

FCM, headquartered in Montreal, opened its Elmsdale plant about a year ago after a rigorous environmental audit and assessment process. Sims Recycling Solutions of Toronto runs a similar facility in Burnside Park in Dartmouth.

When Nova Scotians buy an electronic device, they pay an environmental handling fee based on the size of the product. The fee adds about $30 to the cost of an average-sized TV and about $5 to the cost of a laptop computer.

Some people like to gripe about the extra charge.

"People are less inclined to complain about the fee when they see what it is accomplishing," said Jeff Myrick of the Resource Recovery Fund Board in Truro.

The non-profit Atlantic Canada Electronics Stewardship, administered by the Resource Recovery Fund Board, handles electronics recycling in Nova Scotia.

"The program recycled over 2,000 metric tonnes of unwanted electronic devices last year," Mr. Myrick said.

He said this represents more than 200 tractor-trailer loads of material that would otherwise have gone to provincial landfills.

The government wants to reduce Nova Scotians’ garbage disposal to 300 kilograms per person per year by 2015. Provincial Environment Department statistics show that at the end of last year, the disposal total was 429 kilograms per person, which is about 50 per cent below the national average and a reduction from the previous year’s total of 477 kilograms per person.

Bob Kenney, solid waste resource analyst with the province, said electronics disposal regulations introduced in February 2008 for larger products and then expanded this year to include small devices are designed to extend the responsibility of producers and manufacturers in the life cycle of consumer electronics.

"It’s a type of a program where you tell the industry that if they want to sell in this province, they have to set up a program to have the material collected and recycled," he said.

The manufacturers are best qualified to determine how their products should be recycled, Mr. Kenney said. The program also encourages the electronics industry to design products that can be recycled more easily.

Mr. Kenney said other recycling programs would help in achieving the government’s goal of limiting garbage to 300 kilograms per person per year by 2015.

"To reach this target, we have to consider similar programs for other potential products — such as packaging," he said.


© 2008 The Halifax Herald Limited

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