According to the UN Environment Program, we are throwing away an estimated 50 million metric tonnes of electronics waste (e-waste) per year.
But this is not ordinary garbage. Our electronics leak toxic heavy metals–such as mercury and arsenic–along with equally toxic chemicals that end up in our soil and eventually our water.
Creating more Waste
You’ve probably participated in a community recycling event and left feeling good about shipping off that old computer to be recycled. Chances are it was shipped overseas where it’s polluting someone else’s community.
Jim Puckett, Director of the Basel Action Network , an environmental advocacy organization estimates that close to 90 percent of our e-waste is exported to China and Nigeria.
Guiyu city in Southeastern China has become known as the e-waste city where low-paid workers use whatever means available to strip down electronics in hopes of recovering the copper, microchips, aluminum, gold and silver and plastic that can be resold. Any leftover waste is simply tossed into the nearby river or piled up high in the streets, poisoning the children growing up here.
Vote with Your Dollars
So what can you do with your e-waste? Robert Houghton, President and founder of Redemtech, an asset management and recovery firm, recommends you vote with your dollar. Buy from companies who have a take-back program that guarantees your discarded electronics are handled proper.
“Consumers want to do business with companies who are demonstrably good with corporate responsibility and dealing with e-waste,” said Houghton.
Sony of Canada is leading the way with it’s recycling program. You can bring any of their products into one of their 80 store locations as well as the 25 non-retail collection sites where it will be properly recycled.
There are plenty of charitable organizations that will take your used electronics and donate them for charitable causes:
- Electronic Recycling Association (Canada) (ERA) collects old computers for donation to libraries and other organizations across Canada.
- eBay’s Rethink Initiative pairs up consumers with businesses that refurbish old computers for donation.
- TechSoup has a comprehensive listing of resources for those who would like to donate or recycle hardware, buy recycled hardware or find a refurbisher.
- The Charitable Recycling Program accepts all cellphones and has a listing of charities it helps with its program.
- Call2Recycle has set up drop off points across Canada in a number of stores. You can drop off your cellphone and also your rechargeable batteries from handheld electronic products.
- The Canadian Association Of Food Banks collects defunct printer cartridges and cellphones at locations across the country, including Petro-Canada and Purolator. You can also start your own collection. All profits go to food banks.
Verify your Recycler
Redemtech and BAN are also working to create the e-Steward Initiative a certification program that will independently audited and accredit electronic waste recycler certification program. As the program develops you will be able log on and check that your local recycler is handling e-waste properly and not shipping it overseas.
And the single most effective way to cut down on your e-waste is to stop buying electronics. Ask yourself: Do I need this or just want a new toy?