How To Deal With Household E-Waste In A Growing Digital Age

Did we ever stop to think about what electronic waste is doing to the health of our environment, wildlife and ourselves?

We often hear about the fact that packaging, single use plastic, even tossed clothing are causing the most waste in our landfills, BUT did we ever stop to think about what electronic waste is doing to the health of our environment, wildlife and ourselves?

With a rapidly growing digital age, where innovations on technology are being made to feel smarter, faster and more connected – overall “better”; we are producing more e-waste than ever before. So much so, that Canada is one of the worlds biggest offenders producing 725,000 tonnes of e-waste each year (and that number is growing, where year over year we create more and more).

Unfortunately the e-waste problem isn’t something new. Consumer buying habits on tech has been to discard our electronics as soon as it’s perceived to be “old” (which in the world of tech is at a very rapid rate). The question to ask ourselves is: Are we really getting the full lifespan and potential out of our products? Do we really need the newest, smallest, fastest, latest and greatest or are we simply suffering from FOMO, in our connected world.

Before you toss your “old” tech, here’s what you need to know:
Let’s start by defining exactly what electronic waste is. “Electronic Waste” includes any device that requires batteries or electricity to work. Everything from smaller gadgets (like batteries, charging cables, cell phones, kids toys, sonic toothbrushes, tablets etc.) to major electronics (like monitors, circuit boards, car systems, televisions home theatres to washing machines) and everything in between.

In 2019, the average Canadian household was operating up to 9 connected devices each day. The most heavily relied on of those devices is, of course, the smart phone. Let’s take the smart phone as a perfect example to highlight the growing e-waste problem in Canada. Last year there were over 1.7 billion cell phones created by leading manufacturers around the globe. Many, promising to outperform the phone you already own by offering higher speed, storage, photo capability and more (bells upon whistles upon bells). With the promise of “better” this and that, Canadians are holding on to their phones for a mere 24 months before tossing or trading it in and getting a new one (and the cycle continues). If we were to follow where those cell phones and other electronics are going, we would see that 80% of our discarded technology is ending up in our land fill, while the other 20% is being collected and “recycled” properly. Here’s the thing – while 20% may be collected properly, there is still a significant amount of electronic material (over 30%) that can’t be recovered. It simply isn’t enough to make a dent on the impact that this waste is having on our environment.

Unfortunately, Canada has been a big offender in shipping our e-waste overseas to developing countries and letting them handle our literal “mess”. Whether here at home or overseas, e-waste is disposed of by being burnt at a slow rate. That means that this very technology – packed with toxic chemicals and hazardous materials (including mercury, lead and toxic dust to name a few), are seeping into our air, waterways, soil, wildlife and ultimately ourselves. This is a huge environmental and health risk across the board.

So what’s the good news you ask? The solution and future of our planet is quite literally in our own hands. Here are some tips that we can implement now:

Let’s start at the basic principles of being environmentally responsible; you know, the one’s we learned in school – we have to Reduce, Reuse, then Recycle!

1) Reduce by making the products we have last longer. Let’s be mindful that we are throwing away literally tons of electronics because (in a lot of cases) we feel that what we have isn’t cutting it anymore. We need to get educated on how to manage the life of our products. This means doing on time firmware upgrades, dumping our files on to an external hard drive and doing regular checks for viruses and malware to keep our products running quick and efficiently. It would also be beneficial to find out how and where to fix our products. There is lots of life in aging products. We need to get in front of the e-waste issue by simply reducing our need for MORE.

2) Reuse by donating or reselling your old electronics and technology. Setting up a Kijiji account, selling privately on a digital marketplace, or donating to an appropriate place like daycare or education centre could be key. Pass along your technology to those that can get use out of the life that is less over. If you are trading in your products, however, be sure to clean sweep all of your devices before giving them away. That means logging out of all apps, accounts and deleting everything as well. Also do an entire factory reset on products before sending them on their way. Purchase batteries that can be recharged and reused instead of the single use ones. Especially for kids toys. Where you can, I also recommend looking for rechargeable devices as opposed to battery operated. Also, support brands and retailers that are eco conscious and energy star certified. Technology usually comes with a big price tag. Research products before you’re tempted to buy. Know what you’re really looking for from your tech devices and align yourselves with brands that are known for innovation and quality. Also, get to know trade in programs and repair centres in your area. There are more available than we might think. We just have to search for them!

3) Recycle – The last step should only come after we’ve gotten every bit of use out of a product. There are a few key tips on recycling your electronics:

  • Check with brand manufacturers to see what recycling programs the company offers. Top brands are now offering trade in programs with retail partners.
  • Major retailers like staples.ca and bestbuy.ca have partnered with e-waste recyclers like ECycleSolutions and call2recycle to recycle electronics big and small. Visit the websites to find out what qualifies in what province.
  • Our federal government has issued funding for e-waste programs across every province and municipality. There are government websites which indicate what electronics are eligible for pickup on garbage day or what drop off centres there are in your area (i.e toronto.ca has a Waste Wizard that will direct you to Drop Off Depot closest to your postal code)
  • recyclemyelectronics.ca has over 2400 authorized collection locations. Simply plug in your postal code and it will identify what location is nearby.
  • If you own a business, there are specific e-waste recycling companies that will pickup – greentec.ca
  • electronicrecyclingassociation.ca the ERA is a non profit organization that provides a meaningful way for organizations and individuals to deal with their old computer equipment and software in a safe and secure manner that matches or exceeds government standards

These are just a few tips and tricks on how we can get ahead of the e-waste problem and take action on the solution. Be mindful on the tech that you’re bringing in and throwing out because THE FUTURE IS LITERALLY IN OUR HANDS!

Follow Lisa on Instagram: @livewithlisachang 

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