E-waste finds a home 

Re-Use-It Centre will be Whistler drop-off point for ‘dead’ electronics

Dust off those keyboards and computer monitors — B.C. residents can now dispose of relics from the dial-up days properly, without harming the environment.

On Aug. 1, the B.C. Ministry of Environment launched Return-It Electronics, a new program designed to recycle “end-of-life” electronic equipment throughout the province.

People can now simply drop off their old electronics at one of 70 designated collection sites throughout the province — at no charge — and it will be recycled responsibly.

Not all electronics are accepted; so far, the program includes desktop and laptop computers, monitors and computer accessories, printers, fax machines and TVs.

They aren’t yet accepting stereos, CD/DVD players or cell phones.

The cost of the program is being passed on to consumers through an “environmental handling fee” when they purchase new electronics. The fee varies depending on the item, but ranges from $5 to $45.

Whistler is participating in the new program, with Whistler Community Service Society’s Re-Use It Centre serving as the local collection site.

The Electronics Stewardship Association of British Columbia (ESABC), a non-profit organization of electronic retailers and manufacturers, developed the program. The association research shows one-third of the B.C. population has obsolete electronics in their home, and over half don’t know how to dispose of the equipment properly.

ESABC contracted Encorp Pacific to manage the program throughout the province. Malcolm Harvey, spokesperson for Encorp, said electronics have to be kept out of landfills for health and environmental reasons, pointing out that many devices, like TVs and computer monitors, contain lead and chemicals.

“…In some cases, its several pounds worth of lead in these things — which causes no problem while the thing is in tact,” said Harvey.

“But if it’s broken, the shards and the dust and all the rest of it all become a potential hazard and can leach out into the landfill and contaminate it.”

Employees at all drop-off points have been trained to handle hazardous materials if equipment breaks.

Lorna Van Straaten, manager of the Re-Use-It Centre, said they have accepted electronics donations for years, but weren’t trained to deal with broken equipment until they joined Return-It Electronics.

“I don’t think we had any idea how dangerous (electronics) could be,” said Van Straaten.

The collected electronics are then shipped to one of three designated processors, where tubes are melted down and the lead and glass are extracted and reused.

Despite the new program, Harvey said people shouldn’t just throw away equipment when they get a newer, flashier version.

“Part of the program is to encourage people to consider reuse, particularly for computers that are not that old,” said Harvey.

“Somebody may be giving up a computer not because it’s not working anymore, but because its not doing what they want it to do.”

Van Straaten said the Re-Use-It Centre was a great fit for the new program, because they can accept equipment for resale or to be recycled.

“The point is, if the electronics are still working you can bring them in and we can hopefully resell them and keep them out of the landfill,” said Van Straaten.

“… The next step is if they’re not working — if they’re broken — then we have an option to be able to dispose of them properly.”

Van Straaten said the Re-Use-It Centre actually approached Encorp about becoming the official depot for Whistler.

Dealing with dead electronics has always been a problem for the Re-Use-It Centre — they’ve always had to sell equipment with a seven-day money-back warranty, in case it didn’t work.

“Now, under this program, what we’re asking people to do is bring them in during working hours… and let us know whether they’re in working order or whether they’re for the Encorp program,” said Van Straaten.

She said processors will pick up equipment as often as required, but she thinks they will need service about once a week.

“Just in looking at the volumes of donations we have been receiving over the last couple of years, I can foresee that we’ll probably be able to fill at least one pick-up a week — at least.”

Space limitation is one hurdle for the Re-Use-It Centre.

“We literally could have a store three time the size and fill it,” said Van Straaten, adding that they are working on making a small addition to the front of the centre for processing drop-offs.

Since each collection site is paid for the equipment they collect, Van Straaten said all proceeds from their participation in the program will go towards the WCSS.

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