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 user 2004-03-09 at 10:14:00 am Views: 57
  • #6432

    Recycling programs could lift computer prices

    Impending regulations enforcing environmentally sound recycling in Canada May soon take a bite out of consumers’ wallets when they buy new computers, fax machines or printers.

    Several provinces are at different stages in implementing product stewardship programs that would enforce the recycling of the 158,000 tonnes of electronics that are ditched in landfills each year, said Duncan Bury, Environment Canada’s head of product policy.

    It’s not confirmed yet whether the cost would be added at the point of purchase or embedded in the overall price, Mr. Bury added.

    According to Eric Williams and Ruediger Kuehr of the United Nations University, the move couldn’t come at a better time. The pair co-edited Computers and the Environment, a new book on the environmental impact of PCs.

    Their message is simple: Governments must introduce incentives or legislation to decrease high computer turnover rates and diminish technological waste.

    They say the average 24-kilogram desktop computer and monitor require at least 10 times their weight in fossil fuels and chemicals to manufacture — more than a car or refrigerator.

    Computers now become obsolete in less than a year, said Adam Freedman, co-owner of Hi Tech Recycling Ltd., an electronics-recycling company in Toronto. His firm receives between 500 and 1,000 computers each day, he said, adding that competition has increased in the past few years.

    Noranda Inc. opened a large electronic disassembly plant in Brampton, Ont., last September. Plant manager Cindy Thomas said that businesses recycle their electronics only on a voluntary basis. Product-stewardship legislation would help, she said.

    “What we are struggling with in Canada is how to make sure this material is diverted to a recycler like us,” Ms. Thomas said. “Right now you can throw a computer into a landfill in any province.”

    Noranda’s goal is to process about 450 tonnes of material a month, she said. It is currently operating at 50 per cent capacity.

    The plant takes in “end-of-life” items such as computers, fax machines and photocopiers, and removes hazards like lead and cadmium. Materials such as aluminum and steel are separated and sold.

    But between 50 and 80 per cent of North American electronic waste is exported to Asia, where there are lax environmental laws and low labour costs, Ms. Thomas said. She added that computers that are not disposed of properly run the risk of leaking hazardous materials that could eventually taint ground water.

    Mr. Bury, who attended a workshop in Halifax last week on producer responsibility, said British Columbia is within weeks of formally releasing regulations on electronics disposal.

    Alberta is hoping its new electronic-waste reduction program will help cut annual per capita waste by up to 250 kilograms by 2010, he said.

    Saskatchewan may introduce regulations by 2005 and Nova Scotia is working with other Atlantic provinces to develop a regional strategy, he said.

    “All provincial governments are engaged to a significant degree on this issue.”

    There is some debate on whether federal regulations are needed, said Robert Sinclair, a resource-recovery specialist with Natural Resources Canada. “Europe has recently mandated a European Union-wide directive mandating the recycling of computers and electronics, which will come on line in the next year or two.”

    But until legislation has passed in Canada, companies should be rewarded for selling their used machines, Mr. Sinclair said. He also recommends upgrading computers instead of buying new ones, and donating old systems to firms that refurbish them for schools instead of simply throwing them out.