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Techno trash

As electronic waste mounts, Nova Scotia argues about how to keep it from going to the landfill. Chris Clements reports.


Nova Scotia is working on legislation that could reduce the amount of electronic waste—trash created by old or no longer functioning electronic equipment—in the province’s landfills.

But not everyone is happy with how the government proposes to do that. Reboot, a non-profit computer refurbishing and recycling organization whose Nova Scotia operation is based in Dartmouth, thinks government legislation surrounding computer disposal would hurt their ability to do business.

“My fear is that if the government goes ahead…it will effectively put an end to what we’re trying to do,” says Dave Rideout, employment coordinator of LakeCity Employment, the group that sponsors Reboot.

Reboot accepts donations of computers and monitors of any age. It refurbishes what it can and recycles the leftover parts. Refurbished systems are donated or sold at a reduced price to organizations and people on social assistance that may not otherwise have access to a computer. Reboot diverts between one and two tonnes of waste every month.

The Nova Scotia government also has a refurbishing program in place that keeps between 5,000 and 6,000 computers in use every year. Computers for Schools accepts newer computers and computer components and, after refurbishment, sends them out to schools and libraries across the province.

Dealing with e-waste is already a challenge, and it’s getting worse. The amount of yearly waste in Nova Scotia is expected to rise to 5,000 tonnes per year by 2010.

A CRT monitor, for example—the bulkier, tube-base monitors that are being widely replaced by flatscreen models—“has a half-life of about four to five years and a maximum life of about eight years,” says Claude Taillefer, marketing coordinator of Reboot.

“Offices will not put their staff on an eight-hour day on a five-year old monitor,” says Taillefer. He points out that there are roughly 25 million CRT monitors across Canada at, or nearing, the end of their life cycle.

“If they were to be put together, it would take the space of a city the size of Hamilton.”

Nova Scotia first proposed amendments to the solid waste management regulations in February 2005. The amendments, aimed at diverting electronic waste from landfills, were supposed to take effect January 1, 2006.

“There was hope that we would have had this six months ago,” says Bob Kenney, solid waste-resource analyst with the Department of Environment and Labour. “But we don’t have it because of the complexity. I think we’ve really worked through the complexities and we’re hoping to move it through the system soon. It’s ultimately up to the politicians to decide.”

One of the complexities is trying to sort out how to pay for and handle the costs of recycling. In Alberta, the recycling is managed by the Alberta Recycling Management Authority and consumers pay a fee at the time of purchase. The fee ranges from $5 to $45, depending on the product.

Nova Scotia wants to make the electronics industry responsible for dealing with its own waste. Electronic goods could be returned to their place of purchase for recycling; the cost would be incorporated in the purchase price.

Allowing manufacturers to set their own recycling fee would encourage them to design eco-friendly products that would be quicker and cheaper to recycle, says Kenney.

As for programs such as Reboot and Computers for Schools, “we don’t see them ending,” says Kenney. He sees them as complementary to the proposed system, with the products being recycled after the programs have finished with them.

But Rideout disagrees.

“Nobody will bring something here when they can take it down to the local recycling depot. All those hundreds of individuals that could benefit from getting a computer from here will be left with no resources to tap into.”

Reboot would like to see the government fund their operation so they can expand and advertise, instead of creating a new program where one already exists.

“Here we’ve got real-life practical experience and we’re doing it. We’re doing it better than most.”

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