Electronics industry to accept responsibility for e-waste

Last week, the Ontario Ministry of the Environment approved the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) program, an industry-developed plan under the Waste Diversion Act that aims to reduce e-waste across the province by placing financial responsibility on the companies who produce it.

Only 27 per cent of e-waste in Ontario is currently reused or recycled, estimates the Ministry. The new WEEE plan aims to raise this number to 61 per cent by year five. The number of drop-off locations will increase from the current 167 to 420 across the province by the end of the first year.

The Ontario Electronic Stewardship (OES) is responsible for implementing the plan in co-operation with Waste Diversion Ontario (WDO), a non-government corporation created under the Waste Diversion Act of 2002 to Ontario’s oversee recycling efforts. OES is a not-for-profit industry organization formed by retail, IT and consumer electronics companies.

Ontario residents and businesses dispose of 91,000 tonnes of computers, monitors, printers, fax machines and TVs each year, estimates OES. In five years, that number is expected to grow to 123,000. With WEEE, OES intends to divert 17,000 new tonnes of e-waste from landfills in the first year, leading up to 75,000 tonnes by year five.

WEEE currently addresses “Phase 1” products, which include computers, monitors, printers, disk drives, keyboards, mice, fax machines and televisions. Other electronics, such as cell phones and appliances, are in consideration for Phase 2.

While computer manufacturers are addressing environmental concerns with their own recycling initiatives, such programs often place restrictions on which products qualify for recycling and may even require consumers to pay a fee.

With WEEE, all products that fall under the Phase 1category will be accepted.

“The provincial program is designed really as a public collective, so that no matter what the make or model, no matter if it’s been around for a long time, even if the manufacturer doesn’t exist anymore, you can take it back,” said Dalton Burger, president and CEO of Electronics Products Stewardship Canada, an industry-lead, not-for-profit organization that works with government to address Canada’s electronic waste problem.

“I think it’s important to recuperate historical equipment no matter the make or model because that’s the objective, to get this stuff out of landfills and deal with it properly and recover the material that we can,” said Burger.

The provincial program will process consumer, industry and commercial waste. Businesses will be responsible for transporting their recyclables to a drop-off location, but OES will handle it from there at no additionally fee. “Businesses have traditionally undertaken to come up with their own recycling programs,” said Burger. “This is just another option for them.”

Brand owners, first importers and assemblers will be required to pay 100 per cent of the program costs, estimated at $62 million in the first year, through OES product fees. Whether this expense will be passed along to consumers is still in question. “It’s up to every individual manufacturer to decide,” said Burger. “We have eight months to implement this.” The Ministry averages the costs to roughly $13 per desktop computer and $10 for a TV.

While some believe that manufactures can absorb the additional costs by incorporating them into the design process, Burger pointed out that recycling fees are often significant for processing historical materials, like 20-year old TVs. “It’s historical waste,” said Burger. “You can’t design better for the environment for stuff that was out there 20 years ago.”

One of the biggest issues we saw in the OES consultations was the need for data security on the IT side, said Burger, who assured that the OES plan puts in place “any and all reasonable measure to protect data security.” However, large businesses concerned with recycling equipment may still opt to perform this on their own. “Usually, in order for businesses to maintain complete control over that, they’ll actually engage in scrubbing the discs themselves because they don’t want to leave that to anyone else,” said Burger.

OES will track and audit WEEE materials “from the point of collection through to final destination” and ensure the process is handled in an “environmentally responsible manner,” states the OES release. This includes refraining from exporting equipment to countries with unknown standards.

The provincial plan, which incorporates best practices from current programs in B.C., Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia, also sets standards for the country. According to the Ministry, “Ontario’s e-waste diversion program will be the first in Canada to set environmental performance targets for collection, reuse, recycling and accessibility.” OES also plans to develop a reuse standard over the next year, a first in North America, said Burger.

“Part of this is just trying to bring some structure to Ontario because we have so many business models out there and there’s no umbrella really,” said Burger. “OES is going to be that umbrella for everything.”