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 user 2008-03-21 at 11:31:50 am Views: 80
  • #21491

    Where gadgets go to die
    March  2008 When you retire your old cellphone, computer or iPod, the
    fate of the corpse is rarely given much thought. If you’re not
    bequeathing it to someone else, it often ends up in the trash.It
    shouldn’t. There are an astonishing number of downright unfriendly
    substances in the average electronic device: lead and beryllium and
    mercury and lithium, for example. The right place for that old gear is
    a recycling depotBut all recyclers are not created equal. You think
    you’re doing the right thing by dropping off the old equipment at a
    recycling depot (and you are), but guess what – the “recycler” may
    simply be shipping your old devices off to foreign shores where they
    are unsafely destroyed, polluting the environment and damaging the
    health of workers exposed to the toxins.That’s not only deceptive (you
    think your discards are being properly disposed of, and they’re not),
    it’s illegal. In 1994, the Basel Convention banned the export of
    hazardous waste from richer to poorer countries, and Canada is a
    signatory to that convention (sadly, the U.S. has so far refused to
    sign). Since then, a watchdog organization known as BAN has monitored
    and lobbied against this trade, which it refers to as “the toxic
    effluent of the affluent,” revealing the damage it is doing in reports
    and several hard-hitting videos chronicling practices such as the
    burning of old computer equipment, which poisons the air, land and

    The Globe and Mail
    Some computer vendors, including
    HP, are working to combat the problem by offering free environmentally
    sound recycling of old devices, toner, and ink cartridges.
    The only
    problem, said Frances Edmonds, HP Canada’s director of environmental
    programs, is that you can’t force people to give the old products back.
    To make them want to do so, HP has invested in education campaigns that
    start in junior kindergarten, teaching children about environmentally
    responsible practices, and go all the way up to the university level,
    where it has endowed a chair in corporate social responsibility at York
    University’s Schulich School of Business.HP’s recycling partner is Sims
    Recycling Solutions, a company that guarantees neither it nor its
    subcontractors ship any electronic detritus overseas. I had a tour of
    the Sims facility in Brampton, Ontario, which receives equipment from
    all over Canada, and discovered what a complex business proper
    recycling really is.

    According to Cindy Coutts, senior vice
    president at Sims, the company developed its technology in the late
    1980s as part of a mining operation. It soon discovered that recycling
    is simply another form of mining – in this case, of resources that
    would otherwise end up polluting a landfill. And those resources can be
    reused to cut down on the amount of the other sort of mining that is
    necessary.Although, she said, only about eleven per cent of electronics
    waste is recycled, Sims still processes 1.5 million pounds (680,389
    kilograms) per month. The plant’s maximum throughput is 10,000 pounds
    (4500 kg) per hour.You’d think, with that kind of throughput, that the
    plant would be grubby and cluttered. Nothing could be farther from the
    truth. While you can’t eat off the floors, the area is extremely clean
    – and very noisy. Visitors and staff alike wear hearing protection, as
    well as safety glasses and hard hats. The rumble of machinery is
    punctuated by the beeps of the forklifts whizzing around, transporting
    recyclables to their ultimate fate.

    All recyclables come in on
    pallets. They’re weighed, and each item receives a bar code that is
    scanned at each stage of the process so the company can, if necessary,
    issue a certificate of destruction to the owner (some corporations and
    government agencies require them).The first stage of the process is
    manual. Workers remove toner, ink, light bulbs (they often contain
    mercury), batteries, and other dangerous materials from the equipment,
    to be disposed of appropriately. Monitor glass, which contains lead, is
    also removed. The remaining bits (the “carcass”) are tossed into large
    cardboard boxes mounted on pallets, or, if they’re too big for the box,
    moved aside.

    From that point, the items are virtually untouched
    by human hands. The boxes are taken by forklift to a conveyor belt, and
    larger items like photocopiers or network printers end up by an
    elevator. Both conveyor and elevator head for the same destination: a
    giant shredder that munches the carcasses into chunks. Those chunks are
    fed to a second shredder, and its output to a third, which finally
    spits out pieces of about 5 cm. The cardboard boxes and pallets are
    retained for re-use, and are recycled when their effective life is over.

    not the end of the process, though. The shredded pieces are a mish-mash
    of bits of wire and plastic and metal that need to be separated for
    proper disposal or re-use.First, the stream passes over a screen, and
    pieces of wire and other small bits fall through. They’re about 4 – 6
    per cent of the material, and are sent to a smelter in Quebec, which
    safely extracts and reclaims the copper and gets rid of anything else
    (the plastic covering on the wire, for example).Next, magnets grab
    ferrous metal from the waste; it accounts for about 40 per cent of the
    stream, and it, too, ends up at a smelter.Finally, a device called an
    eddy current separator uses the material’s conductive properties to
    separate out clean aluminum.

    The remaining detritus, a mixture
    of copper and plastics and other trace metals from circuit boards and
    other components, is sent off to the smelter as well, where it is
    safely burned and the metals recovered. There is, said Coutts, no
    commercially viable process yet for recycling the many kinds of
    plastic, so it is currently used as fuel, and the emissions scrubbed to
    remove toxins. However, a pilot project is in progress that will enable
    specific plastics to be recovered and recycled.Even the dust from the
    air in the plant is collected and processed to remove recyclable
    materials such as metals, and the water system is isolated so anything
    that gets into the drains can be safely dealt with before it escapes
    into the environment. And employees are tested regularly to make sure
    they haven’t inadvertently been exposed to anything nasty.The result of
    what is really a series of simple, but carefully managed processes is a
    cascade of environmental benefits. Metal recovered is metal that
    doesn’t have to be mined. Proper handling of the toxic components
    prevents poisoning of our air, land and water (and some of them, like
    mercury, believe it or not, can be reclaimed and re-used). And the
    remaining scrap does not end up cluttering our overtaxed landfills.It’s
    well worth the small effort of sending those old electronics off to be
    properly recycled.