Q : What is being done in Canada with waste from computers, cellphones and other electronic equipment?
A : E-waste, or electronic waste, is a big problem. Canadians produce about 140,000 to 170,000 tonnes per year of e-waste that includes old cell phones, computers, printers and other discarded electronic equipment. The Federal Government, through Environment Canada, Natural Resources Canada and Industry Canada, is working with industry to develop programs that will recycle and re-use electronic equipment. This will keep at least some of the e-waste from landfills. So far, the industry-led programs are voluntary, and it is not clear how much e-waste is being diverted from landfills. It also is not clear how quickly the program will be up and running and if it will be available to all Canadians.
E-waste is valuable because of the metals that can be extracted from the discarded products. The metals in e-waste are also very toxic, such as lead, cadmium and nickel. Canada has signed the Basel Convention that should prevent us from shipping any hazardous waste (such as e-waste) to other countries, notably poor countries in Africa or Asia, however, there is concern that at least some of our e-waste is sent to these countries via the U.S., which has not signed the Basel Convention.
In response to mounting concerns about the shipping of e-waste to poor countries, several provinces have or are enacting their own legislation to promote product recycling and re-use. Unfortunately this leaves Canada with a patch-work of legislation and policies.