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a man sorting e-waste in the garbage

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

 

E-waste is the fastest growing solid waste stream on the planet, in this article we are looking at How To Recycle E-Waste Properly and some of the larger issues associated with it.

What is e-waste? 

E-waste or electronic waste is a nasty side effect of our love affair with new technology and consists of every kind of technology you can think of, including smartphones, computers, laptops, heaters, fans, cords, cables, batteries, printers, smartwatches, televisions, microwaves, cell phones and even your old fridge. Webster’s dictionary defines it as “waste consisting of discarded electronic products”, some of which are broken and some of which get tossed because they are outdated.

I mean who can keep up with the latest iPhone release? Companies like Apple are banking on you to replace your device even if you don’t need to. I have a desktop that is almost 10 years old, there is nothing wrong with it, but it does not support certain apps like Adobe etc. which will eventually force me into buying a new one that does. It’s so frustrating. E-waste can also contain a number of hazardous materials including lead, cadmium, mercury, chromium V and brominated flame-retardants, all of which can harm our health and the health of the planet and it’s why e-waste needs to be recycled properly and not dumped in the garage, heading to landfills.   

Once in a landfill, those toxic chemicals leach into the ground and tiny traces of it end up in the groundwater. There are way better alternatives to tossing your electronics in the garage.

The first thing you need to do is to figure out whether or not what are you are tossing is actually e-waste. The best way to do this is to check with your local municipality, most cities have information on their websites regarding this type of waste. Obviously, the best course of action is to reuse the device if it’s still functional to limit its impact, just saying. But, once you have established that it is, in fact, e-waste, now you need to discard of it properly.  Some cities like Toronto will collect unwanted e-waste and dispose of it safely. 

Electronic Waste Is a Global Environmental Problem

According to the United Nations, “the world produces as much as 50 million tonnes of electronic and electrical waste (e-waste) a year, weighing more than all of the commercial airliners ever made. Only 20% of this is formally recycled.” 

Canadians are major e-wasters, according to a study published by the University of British Columbia, Canadians generate approximately725,000 tonnes of e-waste each year, and only 20 percent of it is recycled properly. And this report notes that on average we keep our phones for about 2 years. I have to admit I have been guilty of this in the past, and in fact, have two broken phones collecting dust in drawers. Admit it, you do too! 

2 broken iphone that are now e-waste

In Canada, we have strict laws in place regarding how raw materials can be legally sourced. But it’s not the case in many developing nations and manufacturers are taking advantage of that. Workers in developing nations face many hardships as they deal with poor working conditions, exposure to toxic dust and industrial runoff. And in a lot of cases it’s kids that are working in deplorable conditions to try and remove the parts that are considered valuable. 

According to a report from the Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE) and the UN E-Waste Coalition “in addition to health and pollution impacts, improper management of e-waste is resulting in a significant loss of scarce and valuable raw materials, such as gold, platinum, cobalt and rare earth elements. As much as 7% of the world’s gold may currently be contained in e-waste, with 100 times more gold in a tonne of e-waste than in a tonne of gold ore”. This is a very important point, e-waste contains valuable resources that we need to recycle and reuse instead of discard. 

Is your e-waste being recycled? 

It’s complicated. Canada used to send most of its e-waste to Africa, then in 1998, several African nations passed the Bamako Convention, a treaty of African nations prohibiting the import into Africa of any hazardous (including radioactive) waste. Companies get around this by “donating” computers and electronics which unfortunately end up polluting landfills and leaving hazardous waste exposed in communities.   

The Basel Action Network, a non-profit that works to “restrict the trade of hazardous waste between more developed countries and less developed countries”, adding that “in these impoverished communities, “recycling” often means burning circuit boards, soaking microchips in acid, and burning plastics to sort them by order. In short, it means poisoning people and the planet.” 

a small child in a landfill site

In Canada, we have two ways of dealing with e-waste: there is an extended producer responsibility (EPR) and a product stewardship program (PSP). Stewardship Ontario explains it like this: 

Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) describes the comprehensive responsibility that Ontario producers, importers and brand owners have to reduce the environmental impact of their products and packaging. Under the EPR model, this responsibility, or Product Stewardship, extends across the entire product management lifecycle, encompassing waste reduction, recovery, recycling and reuse. You’ll also hear it called cradle-to-grave product management. The last part basically means managing all stages of a product’s life: raw material extraction, materials processing, manufacture, distribution, use, repair and maintenance, disposal or recycling. 

how to recycle e-waste:

There are a number of organizations in Canada that make it pretty easy to recycle your e-waste properly. 

The Electronic Products Recycling Association – an industry-led, not-for-profit organization that operates regulated recycling programs across Canada, ensures that end-of-life electronics are handled in a safe, secure and environmentally-sound manner. When you visit the website you can choose what province you are in, it then directs you to Recycle My Electronics which allows you to find drop-off locations in your area. 

The Electronic Recycling Association (ERA) is a non-profit organization founded in 2004 to address the growing problem of e-waste and the increasing ‘digital divide’. For over fifteen years, ERA has offered simple solutions to help individuals and organizations prevent operational equipment from premature destruction

Computers for Schools, which is a reuse program looks to extend the life of working electronics. 

The CNIB’s, Phone It Forward gives Canadians a unique opportunity to donate their old phones, receive a tax receipt, and empower people who are blind in the process.

Call2Recycle will take all your old batteries and they are doing a really great job at keeping these little toxic nuggets out of landfills. 

Grassroots organization The Restart Project, run regular Restart Parties where they teach people how to repair their broken and slow devices – from tablets to toasters, from iPhones to headphones. They are based in the UK, but I love the whole concept and I believe they do have parties in Montreal. Also, take advantage of take-back programs. Apple has one, so does Best Buy

Make sure before you get rid of any device you wipe all your data

Repair and rescue are the best bet! 

With the growing issue of e-waste and the fact that it’s the fastest-growing sold waste issue we face. We need to look for innovation in how we can repair and reuse these items. Like the Restart Progam mentioned before. Or World Loop which is an international non-profit organization that is working to “eliminate the negative impacts of e-waste by turning it into sustainable human and economic resources by facilitating the creation of accessible, environmentally sound, socially responsible and sustainable e-waste recycling in developing countries. 

This video explains the issue of e-waste so well. I hope you found this article useful. Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

 

e-waste in landfill

    

Candice Batista

Candice Batista is an award winning Environmental Journalist and one of Canada’s leading eco advocates. Her career spans national and international media outlets, where she has used her background in environmental studies and media & communications to produce and report on various environmental and climate issues for primarily television and digital audiences including Huffington Post, The Globe & Mail, The Weather Network, CityTV, Rogers Television, The Pet Network, iChannel, and CTV, where she is currently the National Eco Expert for the stations number 1 daytime talk show, The Marilyn Denis Show.
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