More E-Waste for Christmas

December 17, 2020   ·   0 Comments

By Martina Rowley

Christmas means presents and toys and in today’s world that means many electronic and electric gift items. Black Friday and other special deals tempt us year-round to buy new tools, toys and household items that fall in that category: cellular phones and tablets, microwave ovens, blenders, mixers, electric drills, or big-ticket items like washing-machines and refrigerators.

Of course, they need to get replaced or repaired when they break or are no longer safe to use but our lifestyles today also entice and socially pressure us to buy that latest phone or computer device upgrade long before the item is actually defunct. And, sadly, many items are intentionally not built to last or be repaired, much to my chagrin!

   Why does it matter how frequently we replace our electric and electronic ‘stuff?’ According to a CBC report, Brussels-based Bureau of International Recycling said that Canada generated 638,300 tons of “e-waste” in 2017 and estimates that by 2025, North America will cumulatively generate 9.25 million metric tons of e-scrap per year (one ton in North America being 2,000 pounds). According to some older data by the Recycling Council of B.C., it is estimated that 40,000 cell phones are thrown out across Canada every day, many being used for less than two years before being replaced by newer models.

   A special project, and one of my favourite visual demonstrations of our e-waste problem, is the UK Eden Project’s “WEEE Man.” It is a creative, 7-metre tall robotic installation made of scrap electrical and electronic equipment weighing 3.3 tonnes, which is representative of the average amount of e-products every UK citizen uses in a lifetime (

   The problem with e-waste is that it is hazardous material and often does not get disposed of correctly. When it ends up in landfills or dumped elsewhere, the electronics can leak toxic elements, like mercury and lead, which are harmful to humans and the environment. Taking them apart to salvage recyclable and precious components, such as recyclable plastics or precious metals, as well as toxic materials is a hazardous process that is often undertaken in developing countries in unsafe conditions for the workers. Much of our e-waste sadly ends up there either through legitimate or illegitimate channels.

   The best way to somewhat reduce our collective impact of e-waste is to ensure we keep using still-functional devices and equipment, either ourselves or by someone else you sell or donate your items to. In some towns, Repair Cafes run by community groups or non-profit organisations, host events where small electric and non-electric household items can be brought in to be repaired on the spot or within a short time by capable and creative volunteers. Here in town, Sustainable Orangeville has discussed the possibility of starting a Repair Café but of course COVID-19 restrictions have put such community activities on hold for now.

   Technological thrift shops and several organizations across Canada collect and refurbish computer equipment and phones, like Free Geek, who then circulate these items back to the public free or at low cost. In Orangeville, The Door Youth Centre and VAM Computers, until recently, accepted computer equipment and cables they either reuse or recycle with partner organizations who take care of e-waste responsibly. Municipalities provide hazardous waste collection every year, and many companies accept old batteries (not car batteries) which go to appropriate recycling facilities.

   New e-waste regulations will also help. I stumbled upon a notice that starting January 1, 2021, a new producer responsibility regulation is coming into effect. Under the Resource Recovery and Circular Economy Act, 2016,the Electrical and Electronic Equipment (EEE) Regulation designates information technology, telecommunications, audio-visual (ITT/AV) and lighting equipment (excluding power tools and children’s toys) under Ontario’s individual producer responsibility regulatory framework. In short, it means producers will be individually accountable and financially responsible for collecting and reusing, refurbishing or recycling end-of-life electrical and electronic equipment (e-waste) products and packaging when consumers discard them. The regulation sets mandatory and enforceable requirements for resource recovery and gives producers choices for resource recovery services in a competitive market. In theory, that means we should see new, publicly accessible e-waste collection sites around town, which should accept computer equipment, telephones, stereos, cameras, cables, audio recording equipment and more. It does not include electrical household appliances, like toasters, kettles, microwave ovens or refrigerators.  

  While this new e-waste collection regulation goes in the right direction, I still blame producers for much of this waste and would like to see our electronic and electrical equipment being built to last and possible to be repaired affordably. It bothers me that replacing a rechargeable battery in a still perfectly good cell phone costs an extortionate amount of money, with the goal of enticing you to buy or get a ‘free’ upgrade of a phone by signing on to a 2-year term with a phone provider. That is where legislation really should start.

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