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Goodbye e-waste

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Have you replaced your computer, TV, stereo or cellphone lately? Some household electronic items quickly become obsolete as technology advances and new products are developed. Some just wear out. This has created a burgeoning stream of e-waste.

‘E-waste’ refers to all waste that comes from or is caused by electronics. It contains materials such as lead, mercury, arsenic and chromium—all known or suspected agents of harm to wildlife and human health. E‑waste is a major concern with respect to wireless technology and computers because such items are readily discarded. According to Environment Canada, 140,000 tonnes of e‑waste are dumped annually in landfills—an amount that continues to increase.

Rising demand for e-waste recycling and re-use presents business opportunities and economic benefits that include job creation and local development. Valuable materials such as glass, plastic, aluminum, copper and even gold can be salvaged from used electronics. E‑waste re-use organizations and recyclers are active in most provinces and will likely continue to expand. In 2000, Ontario was home to four companies in the business of e-waste recycling; by 2004, there were 14 companies.

Chart: Material composition of personal computersGrowing concern over e-waste has led to several initiatives. Electronic Product Stewardship Canada has taken the lead in implementing an extended producer responsibility program for e-waste. The program encourages consumers to recycle and re-use items such as computers and televisions.

Additionally, the Information Technology Association of Canada (the industry group representing the information technology and telecommunications industry) has proposed adding a fee to their products at the point of sale. Consumers would pay an additional $20 to $25 up front when buying an electronic product, to ensure that it is eventually disposed of in an environmentally sound way.