School dumps computers into local landfill 

AWARE VP sees increased awareness key to e-waste recycling

Connie Wilcox, local businesswoman and grandmother of a Myrtle Philip Community School student, is concerned that the elementary school dumped "at least 20 up-to-date computers" at the Whistler Municipal Landfill at the end of the school year.

"It really agitated me," says Wilcox of the news. "I think it’s scandalous that these computers were dumped."

Landfill attendant Samantha Mason confirms that the school dumped "a whole truckload" of monitors, keyboards and computers at the site. But many of these machines will not end up languishing in the landfill.

"A little while later some guy came and rescued quite a few. He wanted to fix them up for people to use," says Mason, adding that she wishes she had his name and phone number. "It would be useful for people who want to recycle their old equipment."

Wilcox says that the anonymous man is re-selling the refurbished units in the community.

"I am looking at buying one myself," she admits.

However, she asserts that she would have rather seen the machines sold as a fundraiser for the school’s cash-strapped PAC or given to children who don’t have computer access at home.

Myrtle Philip Principal Ron Albertin, says that the operative word is "up-to-date" when it comes to the issue of the computers. Albertin consulted with the school board’s technicians who deemed the "10 to 12-year-old" machines unusable. "You end up spending far more money keeping (old computers) going," he says.

Many of the discarded pieces were circa 1994 Macintosh computers, unable to access the Internet or the school’s network. Additionally, Myrtle Philip has since changed to a PC network in accordance with the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation’s donation of $275,000 to School District 48 to upgrade its classroom computers.

"The technicians took out anything of value, like network cards," says Albertin. He maintains that working units were sent to The Re-Use-It Centre after Pemberton’s Signal Hill Elementary turned down the machines on the basis of their age.

Albertin says he was unaware that the majority of the machines went to the landfill as he had left their disposal to the school’s maintenance department.

Trish Farina, executive assistant to Dr. Rick Erickson, superintendent of SD48, says the district has no policy on the disposal of e-waste.

Although the Whistler landfill was the site of an e-waste pilot program, E-Ways, earlier this year, the facility currently has no ongoing recycling system for electronic waste.

"I see the public coming in and wanting to do the right thing," Mason says. "I know these (programs) aren’t put in place the next day. But I’m sure we’ll see one."

The arbitrary disposal of useable equipment is only one aspect of the waste involved in dumping the computers; there’s also the environmental impact. In addition to plastic cases that have a recycling efficiency rating of 20 per cent, some of the toxic substances that end up in landfills and incinerators include lead, cadmium and mercury.

People exposed to cadmium, with its 30-year half-life, can easily attain poisonous accumulation levels and endure painful symptoms.

Exposure to high levels of mercury can cause brain damage. But lead is the most serious pollutant. This heavy mental can cause damage to the central and peripheral nervous systems, blood systems and kidney. Additionally, the serious effects of lead on child brain development have been well documented. And there’s a potential for lead to leach and contaminate water supplies.

"It’s unfortunate that Myrtle Philip missed the E-Ways collection day a few months ago," says Mitch Rhodes, vice-president of Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment (AWARE).

Long concerned about the impact of e-waste, Rhodes is quick to point out that it’s just not just computers causing the problem, citing TVs radios and PDAs as a few of the other culprits.

While the E-Ways pilot project proved successful, ongoing efforts to curb the toxic effects of disposing of consumer electronics may be a ways off.

"It’s terribly expensive," says Rhodes. "You have to go back to the design and manufacturing level. These items are not easily disassembled to be recycled."

Rhodes believes increased awareness is the key to making e-waste recycling a reality.

"A year ago, I doubt a school dumping computers in the landfill would be story," he said.

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