Return-It Blog

A new life for old electronics

Progress is being made towards reducing and in some cases eliminating waste when electronic products approach the end of their lives. It all starts from the beginning when products are designed with the environment in mind and are manufactured with a shift towards  light-weighting. Consumers are demanding smaller, lighter devices that are multi-functional in what they can do, and manufacturers have responded to create these kinds of devices. This means a consolidation and a significant reduction in the weight and size of products.

Deferring the disposal of electronics is also making progress, with a greater emphasis on reuse.  In 2013 electronic manufacturers took back approximately 8,000 tonnes of electronic products in Canada for the purpose of reuse and refurbishment. Increasingly electronics are getting second lives though small repairs. In BC, Computers for Schools is the first organization to have met the Electronic Products Recycling Association’s (EPRA’s) criteria for reuse and refurbishment in the province and is now recognized as a certified organization to safely donate used electronics to.

EPRA is a national not-for-profit organization dedicated to responsible recycling of end-of-life electronics. With over 257 authorized collection sites in BC, which include the Return-It Electronics Depots, you don’t have to go far to recycle your obsolete electronics. In fact, 98% of BC residents live within 30 minutes of a depot in urban areas, and within 45 minutes in rural areas.

Responsibly recycling end-of-life electronics results in the materials found in them being recovered and recycled.  Recovered materials mean less of those materials need to be sourced from mining. That reduces the negative impacts caused by that mining, particularly greenhouse gas emissions associated with extracting and refining virgin raw materials.

The recycled electronics are taken to EPRA approved processors where they are broken down into smaller components. They are then harvested for glass, plastic and precious metals, such as gold and copper. The recovered materials are put back into the manufacturing supply chain and used to make new products giving them a second life. This minimizes the amount of electronics thrown into BC landfills and also prevents them from being handled by irresponsible recyclers.

According to Insights West, 98% of people in British Columbia agree that the disposal of electronics through recognized recycling programs is important. Taking your electronics to an authorized collection site ensures they will not be illegally dumped or shipped offshore to developing countries.

The program is funded through an Environmental Handling Fee (EHF) that is applied to the sale of all electronic products regulated in BC. It’s not a tax, nor a refundable deposit. The fee covers the cost of recycling electronics in a responsible manner that protects both the environment and worker health and safety. It even covers the cost of recycling historic and orphaned electronics, so that all electronics, no matter how old, can be recycled responsibly.

What kind of products does EPRA recycle in BC? Virtually all end-of-life electronics including computers, televisions, gaming devices, audio equipment, fax machines, scanners and printers. Since its implementation, over 168,000 metric tonnes of electronics have been collected in British Columbia, diverting an estimate of over 3.3 million devices from landfills and illegal export each year.
It is easier than you think to drop off old and unwanted electronics at the nearest collection site. Be part of a change that is making a real difference for nature’s sake.