It’s time to recycle those old electronics

Geoff Meeker
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If your basement is anything like mine, it is populated by old TV sets, computers, stereo components and other electronics, either broken or obsolete. If piled up together, it would probably fill a 10-by-12 room.

Recycle

In other words, I’d free up a lot of floor space if I got up the inclination to remove all that junk. Trouble is, much of it still works and I hate to bring it to the landfill.

Now, with last month’s launch of the Electronic Products Recycling Association (EPRA), there is an environmentally responsible alternative to dumping unwanted technology. Now, you can bring it to one of 16 dropoff points across the province for recycling.

But there’s a catch. You have to pay for it, not during dropoff but through the implementation of a new environmental handling fee (EHF) on future purchases of all new electronics. The fees range from $2.50 for portable computers to $7.75 for printers to $10.50 for desktop computers to $42.50 for large screen TV sets. There’s more, but that gives an idea of the fee spread.

That’s right, the price of new gear just went up. And the fee is taxable, meaning you will pay the EHF plus 13 per cent.

Do we really need this extra expense? Or were we better off carting our old electronics to the landfill for free? That was the first question I asked during a telephone interview with Terry Greene, EPRA program director.

 “Manufacturers and retailers of these products have a (legislated) obligation within the province to make sure there is an end-of-life electronics recovery process,” he said. “To put that in place, we need a way to fund the program. We’ve got the expense of collecting the materials from various locations around the province and then we have to transport it to consolidation facilities and take it to the processor outside the province. And we have the cost of administration of the program and making sure there is public awareness of it. So that’s where the fee comes in.”

But are we really better off? Doesn’t much of the equipment wind up in a landfill anyway?

“Small amounts will end up in the landfill,” Greene said. “First of all, anything that is considered to be hazardous material is removed before any other recycling effort is undertaken. For example, the two hazardous materials that are in electronic components, particularly the older ones, are the lead that’s in the cathode ray tubes in computer and TV screens, and then a small amount of mercury that’s in the fluorescent lights and bulbs used to light screens in LCDs. Then there is the process of dismantling the rest of the unit to take back the plastics, metals, glass, and precious metals in the operating system. By the time that’s done, you’ve got very little left to move to the landfill.”

OK, that’s good to know. But why, I wondered aloud, are the fees low on some components, but so much higher on others? An extra $48 on a big screen TV (with taxes in) is a big chunk of change.

“The EHF are in direct relation to the cost of handling the material itself, as opposed to the value of the electronics,” Greene said. “For example, we set a higher fee for large-screen TVs and monitors because they have more weight, require more handling and cost more to ship to the processor.”

The program is retroactive for all equipment, no matter how long you’ve had it, so you can even bring in that old Philco Ford TV that is gathering dust in the crawlspace under the stairs.

See RE-USE, page D2

“There’s not much point launching a program that takes into account only those electronics that will be purchased into the future,” Greene explained. “We also want to get out of the system any old electronics that people have. In fact, we’ve recovered already about 30 tonnes since we launched on Aug. 1 and I can assure you that within that there is a lot of older electronics.”

The cost of the program is being borne entirely by the consumer. Manufacturers do not contribute. Their responsibility, Greene said, is to continue innovating — creating smaller, more compact electronics with even smaller environmental footprints — and to purchase the recovered materials from the recyclers.

Fair enough, but it would have been nice if they had kicked in some of the cost as well, especially those manufacturers who enjoy hefty profit margins based on manufacturing their products using cheap foreign labour.

That said, I’m sold. This is a great program and I’m happy to get behind it.

But Greene made one other point that bears repeating: if the electronics are still in working order, try to re-use them by donating to Computers for Schools or giving them away through freecycle.org. For more information on EPRA, visit recyclemyelectronics.ca/nl.

Now, who wants to help me move all this junk out of the basement?

 

Geoff Meeker is a communications consultant with a soft spot for technology. He also writes a blog about the local media scene, which is hosted at www.thetelegram.com.

Organizations: Electronic Products Recycling Association

Geographic location: LCDs

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Recent comments

  • W Bagg
    September 09, 2013 - 12:55

    So how will the program work? Why should I return my broken 42" TV to a recycling center that I already paid $42.50 plus tax to and get nothing back. Essentially I am paying for the "association" to make money. I pay them $42.50 up front and they take my TV and sell it for scrap to earn profit. Sounds good to a consumer doesn't it. At least they are removing the mercury from the light source in my TV but don't care about the 50 or so Compact Fluorescent Bulbs (which contain mercury) I use yearly in my house. THIS FEE IS A BAD IDEA FOR YOU THE CONSUMER

  • Leo MacDonald
    September 09, 2013 - 08:44

    Its nice to see the government is so concerned about of environment. The fee is not that great for a clean environment. At the same time there is no way of disposing of all the fluorescence light bulbs that are in use. I recently checked with my town council on the destruction of such bulks and was told to put them in the regular household garbage that is the only way they knew off. I am calling from Deer Lake and I called the environment office in Corner Brook and was told I had to hold them until dangerous goods are collected which is once a year. There are plans to have proper disposal available but not until at least 2016. Worth looking into.

  • Uncle Scabby
    September 09, 2013 - 07:04

    1) like our old tyres being shipped to Quebec to be burnt in a cement plant, this is a poor solution to ship all this stuff back to roughly where it came from, Asia. Made in China, recycled in India. And we ask CBS residents to car pool while our junk tours the world! 2) We've been watching old CRTs on the curbs this past 2 years, and we get a fee? A fee is not an incentive, action depends the user, the same schmuck who pays the fee. Crazy. 3)Look at the great example of recycling shown in New Harbour. I guess we paid up front to have all those transformers "recycled" also. At least people are reusing oil for powersaw lube! 4)this is not a recycle program. It systematically depends on the consumer doing what it has never done, pay a fee AND incur its own transport, on some foolish depots schedule, get there, have to go get someone t help you bring your gear into the p Ace cuz they have a 90 lb student there on min wage. My gentle judas, is this not just another non-profit for some familial connections. White collar welfare. Stupid. If its not for profit, it is not efficient. Tax on this fee? Just a little extra insult we are so getting used to these days.