Bring out your dead

Recycling series: Alberta’s electronics recycling program wants your outdated gadgets

Everyone has them. They gather in closets, basements, attics and garages. Their usefulness long surpassed by newer, shinier versions of themselves, they sit silently, collecting dust.

They are old electronics. Be it a computer, copier, television or VCR, everyone seems to have at least one outdated electronic device residing in their home.

The fastest growing type of waste in North America, e-waste contains hazardous chemicals which, if tossed out with regular garbage, can result in lead, mercury and cadmium leeching into local landfills, said Elizabeth Gray, public information manager, Alberta Recycling Management Authority.

“There are hazardous components within the electronics – for example, within circuit boards – so [recycling] keeps that out of the landfill so it doesn’t leech,” she added.

The good news is Albertans have been increasingly aware of the need to recycle their old electronics. In 2014, residents and businesses recycled 826,000 computers and TVs through the province’s electronics recycling program, the first in Canada according to the Alberta Recycling Management Authority.

Since the program began in 2004, Albertans have recycled 6.4 million units of computer equipment and televisions, which have been dismantled into 129,000 tonnes of metal, plastic and glass that have been shipped into the marketplace for manufacturing into new products.

“These are still commodities when they are broken down, so all the electronics that enter the provincial program are disassembled into their material components of glass, metal and plastic,” said Gray.

The steel, aluminum and copper metal found in the wires, cables and circuitry is used as material for new products. The glass from television and computer screens is melted down, separating the lead, and reused in the manufacture of new products. The plastic from the cases, keyboards and mouse are processed to produce plastic flakes or pellets used to make new consumer products.

While Albertans are becoming more adverse to tossing old electronics into the bin, Gray said there’s still plenty of room for improvement. Alberta Recycling estimates that the six million TVs, monitors, computers and printers recycled in the province over the last 11 years represent just half of what’s lingering in homes around Alberta.

“In terms of the program, we don’t take our foot off the gas pedal. We just want to ensure that everything is captured that the owner has deemed end of life,” she said.

“The recovery rate has plateaued a little bit, so we’re trying to determine is there more out there in basements. We term it the hard to get material. So maybe it’s the TV down in the basement that’s too heavy to lift. It’s that idea.”

Currently, the program has more than 350 collection sites across the province where Albertans can bring their televisions, computer monitors, CPUs, keyboards, cables, mice, speakers, laptops, notebook computers and printers.

To help cover the cost of recycling in the province, Albertans pay environmental fees when they purchase certain electronics. Last year, 945 businesses registered to charge and submit the environmental fees, which range from $1.20 for laptops and tablets to $10 for TVs larger than 30 inches.

Calgarians can find out more about where they can take their old electronics by visiting www.calgary.ca, or by calling the Alberta Recycling Management Authority at 1-888-999-8762 for a for a list of local spots to donate, recycle or dispose of your old or broken electronics.

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