Imagine how many cell phones that you, your friends and the rest of the world throw out in one year—now imagine throwing all of them into one giant hole in the ground.While the image might be dramatic, that could be close to reality for people in the territory on a smaller scale. Currently there exists no territory-wide recycling program to process e-waste—objects like obsolete laptops, cellphones, televisions, and MP3 players. But that’s something the Environment and Natural Resources Solid Waste Specialist Diep Dong hopes is changing.
“We’re a little behind the provinces,” she said. “They all have programs for recycling e-waste in place. That’s why we’re trying to get a sense of the habits of people in the territory so we can create a program that works for people”
These habits emerged in greater detail from the E-Waste Survey Report released this August. The survey aimed to gather info on whether residents were more likely to keep, recycle, repurpose or toss their out-dated or no longer usable items. The survey indicated that many residents would be willing to recycle their items if there was a program for it.
A total of 877 surveys were completed. Altogether, the outcomes were not necessarily indicative of all households in the territory, but got the ball rolling to see how they could start collecting objects to stockpile and then transport down south.
Out of the survey results an average of 19.6 electronic items per household—16.4 of which were functioning. More than 12 per cent of those surveyed said they planned to buy another electronic product in the next year.
Around 88 per cent of those surveyed said they’d buy their items in the NWT and 83 per cent said they’d also purchase beyond territorial borders. Around 95 per cent of people surveyed said they participate in the bottle recycling program, and 97 per cent said they would drop off their used electronics if there were a program. Although 40 per cent recorded in the survey said they had thrown out at least one electronic item, it’s not necessarily a number that reflects the entire territtory.
According to ENR, e-waste contains hazardous chemicals and heavy metals like cadmium, lead, mercury and flame retardants. These can become harmful to the environment and to people once they seep into landfill grounds.
Craig Kovatch headed to the back room in Hay River’s Audiotronic store to dig out a broken flatscreen television. Save for a little dust, the TV looks to be in relatively decent condition. That’s until he flipped the screen over to expose the open back of the screen and all the exposed electronics. The circuits were fried—probably a result of a power surge—and the TV is no longer working.
Instead of sending it to be repaired, Kovatch said the owners opted not to. It was no longer under warranty and with the cost of shipping, buying a new flatscreen would have cost the same as sending the unit to be repaired.
“That’s the sad reality,” said the electronics store co-owner. “The price of electronics continues to drop every year. That’s the business model corporations are using now: electronics are becoming disposable items and people are just throwing stuff out and buying a new.”
Kovatch said they looked into recycling independently in the past but said the practice was cost prohibitive. As people continue to buy electronics in the south, the store needs to keep its costs on par to continue to generate profit.
Up until 2010 all the local tossed electronics may have ended up somewhere in the Hay River landfill, but that’s changing said the town’s civil technologist Dustin Dewar.
Three years ago the town began an initiative to separate white goods and electronic waste—items like fridges and freezers—to be transported down south to be recycled. Only recently in the past few months have they begun to hold scheduled hours in town when people could drop off their old items.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” he said. “The more we can keep out of our landfill the longer we will have it.”
Once there are enough items they will transported down south to be recycled along with the white goods. So far the costs to process the items aren’t reflected in the town’s tipping fees, but that could change.
“Recycling e-waste could provide a return, but we are so far away from potential processors that it still costs money to transport,” he said.
But depending on what emerges from survey report, they may be able to receive some compensation from the GNWT. Dong said ENR is looking to develop a cost-effective, territory-wide program for e-waste recycling. This means that small communities could have scheduled pick-ups, frequency is dependent on need.
First, ENR is planning to review and submit a report at the end of September on the feasibility of e-waste recovery in the NWT. Next they will look at partnering with other provincial programs, define gaps work on developing a self-sustaining program for the territory.
The town of Hay River held an e-waste and hazardous waste collection this spring. This week, Sept 4-7, they will be holding another collection at the recreation centre parking lot from 3-7 p.m.. This time they’ll be collecting aerosol cans, paint, fluorescent lights, and e-waste items, and will be selling composting units. This is their second collection event held in partnership with ecology north.
“Composting can divert potentially 30-40 per cent of household waste,” said Dewar. “We just want to keep going in that direction.”
– Angele Cano