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Cradle to the grave



Cradle to the Grave
Electronic cemeteries are quickly rising across Canada


sunil angrish

Everyone knows to toss newspapers in the recycling box. However, most people end up dragging their old electronics to the curb, not knowing what to do with them.   But there are a few groups across the country that want to see a change toward e-recycling.

Outdated or broken electronics can be found in basements and garages all across the country, as people wonder what to do with them.

Electronics Product Stewardship Canada (EPSC) wanted a national electronics waste program, however realistically it seemed that it could only be done on the provincial level. Electronics Recycling Alberta (ERA), like EPSC, is a not-for-profit organization which emerged as the first and only provincial electronics recycling program.

Along with leading electronics manufacturers, including IBM Canada, EPSC developed a plan for a national electronics end-of-life (EOL) program in 2002, for the collection and recycling of aged electronics.  These stewardship programs  effectively take a Cradle to the Grave approach.  The process ensures the products are recycled safely at the end of their life, and that they don’t end up in landfill sites.  Several European countries already have similar electronics recycling programs, but EPSC realized there were too many things that needed to be harmonized  for a national program to work at this time.  However, Alberta proved to be a perfect starting place.

Kari Veno, communications manager from Alberta Recycling Management Authority (which launched on Oct. 1, 2004), says enforcing the rules and money collection are reasons why the program would not function at a national level. Since the program’s inception, Alberta has set up more than 100 collection sites to collect EOL computers, printers and televisions. 

“We wanted to start with (products) that were hazardous to the environment,” says Veno.  These products contain high amounts of cadmium, lead and mercury, which are deadly to the environment. Eventually the program will expand to collect similar electronics such as MP3 players and cell phones.  Alberta has already collected over 3,750-tonnes of electronic waste. 

Once the material is collected there are five qualified recyclers or processors that process the e-waste into components such as glass, metal and plastic. 
In February 2005, the program started collecting environmental fees from vendors at the time of sale which range from $5 to $45 depending on the size of the electronics. The fees are used strictly for the electronics recycling programs.  Veno stresses the fact that this is a  fee, not a tax since not everyone has to pay it.

“I would rather spend $10 or $15, or whatever the recycle fee is to ensure (the products are) being handled properly, than to think that some poor person over in a Third World country is having their life negatively impacted by unscrupulous people (who) are just trying to make a buck off this,” says Garry Travers, IBM’s Environmental Affairs Manager. 

IBM is working with provinces, including Alberta, to sort out their early problems in hopes that a national program could someday work.  In Ontario, the Waste Diversion Act was passed in 2002 with a strong goal of 60 per cent waste diversion. In an attempt to meet that goal by 2008, Ontario’s Minister of the Environment has directed Waste Diversion Ontario to develop a system for recycling electronics. 

“It is up to Waste Diversion Ontario to work with stakeholders, including the electronics companies, retailers, packagers, distributors, recyclers and others to come up with a (program),” says Ministry of the Environment spokesperson, Mark Rabbior.

The goal of every province having a ‘Cradle to the Grave’ program is taking longer than expected, but all provinces are taking this issue seriously. Saskatchewan is expected to be the next province with a program by mid-2006.

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