This Magazine

Progressive politics, ideas & culture

September-October 2009

5 better ways to recycle your old computer

Milton KiangWebsite

There are better ways than the scrap heap to deal with an old computer. Creative Commons photo by Flickr user ÇP.

There are better ways than the scrap heap to deal with an old computer. Creative Commons photo by Flickr user ÇP.

You know it’s wrong to toss your e-waste in the trash but you also know that too often e-waste ends up in a country like India or China, where labourers are exposed to toxic fumes and cancer-causing dioxins as they strip down old electronics, and discarded heavy metals end up contaminating local soil and water.

Unfortunately, there are no national standards for e-waste recyclers, so making sure your old PC isn’t being illegally shipped overseas requires a bit of work on your part. Here are five tips to help you out with that process:

  1. Contact your province’s recycling council or your regional district office for a list of recommended recyclers. Bear in mind these recyclers are only “recommendations,” so you’ll have to exercise due diligence. Ask whether they carry an ISO number, which certifies they adhere to internationally recognized business and environmental standards. Also ask how they recycle e-waste. Locally? In what types of facilities? Some recyclers will send components to specialized smelters in Europe, but that’s rare. Any mention of sending e-waste to India, Africa, or China should raise red flags.
  2. Find a reputable computer refurbishment centre such as reBOOT or Industry Canada’s Computers for Schools. Both agencies will give new life to your end-of-life hardware and distribute it to a non-profit or charity. You can find your nearest reBOOT or Computers for Schools program on their websites.
  3. Living in Western Canada? Then drop off your e-waste at London Drugs. This electronics and pharmacy chain even accepts hardware purchased elsewhere for a nominal fee—$5 for a laptop, $10 for a desktop.
  4. Consider returning your hardware to its retailer or manufacturer. Most national electronics retailers use reputable recyclers, as do manufacturers like Dell, Apple, and HP, which all have programs that allow you to mail back discontinued hardware.
  5. Here’s one option that’s so easy, it doesn’t even require you to find a recycler: reducing. “Most of us who email and surf the web don’t need anything more powerful than a Pentium III,” says Vancouver reBOOT general manager Robert Gilson. So think twice before you buy your next cellphone or laptop. You’ll do the environment—and your wallet—a favour.
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