Safely ditch those old electronics

Are old computers and electronics piling up around your home? We share tips on how to safely get rid of all that e-waste.

Sometimes they’re surplus, sometimes they go out of date and sometimes they just give up the ghost. Our favourite electronics don’t last forever, but getting rid our electronic waste can sometimes be a hassle.

We know we shouldn’t store e-waste. In addition to the space it takes, batteries can leak and the devices can be a fire hazard. In some cases, things that are no longer useful to us can find new life with people in need.

We also know e-waste shouldn’t go in the trash. Our old TVs, computers, stereo equipment, cell phones, digital cameras and mobile devices contain materials that can be recycled (such as copper, silver or gold). In addition to the dangers from battery acid, other contaminants like cadmium, lead and mercury can leach into the soil and ground water in landfills.

So what should you do with your e-waste? While the availability of programs depends on where you live, here are some places to start.

Community and charitable organizations

If your item is still in good working order, you might be able to sell it, donate it or give it away. Schools, senior centres, recreational facilities and community groups may be able to give a home to your unwanted equipment. You can often find out about requests through the organization’s website or a local directory like the City of Toronto’s ReUseIt program or the City of Edmonton’s Reuse & Recycling Directory which connect consumers with non-profit organizations.

Many large organizations like the Salvation Army or the Canadian Diabetes Association Clothesline accept donations of electronics to be sold in their stores. 

What if the item isn’t in ideal condition? Look for a non-profit that has a refurbishment or recycling program. Some organizations like the David Suzuki Foundation’s Think Recycle! Program collect e-waste and recycle it for cash. (They’ll even cover your shipping costs.)

Some charities hold their own drop-off events as fundraisers too. For every kilogram of waste it collects, the group will earn cash. (Check your local events calendar for more details.)

Retailer or manufacturer programs

Replacing a specific item like a TV or cell phone? In recent years, the people who make and sell the devices are taking more responsibility for safe disposal. When you’re shopping for a replacement, ask about what programs and services are in place for disposing of your old item. For instance, the store might haul away your old TV or appliance when they deliver the new one — or your telecommunications provider might offer a pre-paid envelop to send your old cell phone to its recycling program.

You can even drop off some items in store. For example, Future Shop’s E-Recycling Program and Best Buy’s Electronics & Gift Card Recycling programs let you drop off used batteries, cell phones, music players, portable DVD players and ink cartridges into specially-designated bins. Rogers and Fido participate in the Phones for Food program where your old phone can be recycled or refurbished to raise money for the Food Bank of Canada.

Where can you find this information? Company websites can outline policies and programs before you hit the stores and offer customer service contact information to answer your questions. In store, talk to the store manager if the sales clerk isn’t able to help.

Local programs and facilities

Not sure what items should go where — and when? Finding information can be a little tricky because there’s a "mixed bag" or programs out there. In some provinces like British Columbia, cities primarily rely on provincial programs to handle e-waste. In other provinces, cities have their own programs in conjunction with provincial initiatives while some provinces and territories mainly rely on local programs.

If you’re looking for more information about your province’s regulations, disposal facilities and events, provincial programs can be a good place to start – including:

Stewardship Agencies of British Columbia
Return-It.ca (BC)
BC Small Appliance Recycling Program
Alberta Recycling Management Authority
Saskatchewan Waste Electronics Equipment Program (SWEEP)
Green Manitoba E-waste Roundup Program
Ontario Electronic Stewardship
RECYC-QUÉBEC (French only)
Atlantic Canada Electronics Stewardship (Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island)
Call 2 Recycle (British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec)

However, these websites may not cover every location and program. If you want to dig down to details, visit your city or town’s website to find out what programs and facilities are available in your area. For example, the City of Toronto has an E-waste Bag program where electronics can go right to the curb in a special bag.  The City of Edmonton has Eco Stations where you can drop off electronics and other hazardous waste.

Not in a major city? Your municipal website or phone book can offer information about local hazard waste facilities. Earth911.com also has a search engine for finding local disposal centres in Canada and the U.S.

Also, be sure to check your community events listings for special drop-off or collection events throughout the year.

Nationwide Programs

Still need a little help? Some programs like the Electronics Recycling Association (ERA) and Recycle My Cell operate in various cities across Canada and offer services you might not find elsewhere. For example, not everyone has a car to drop off items. The ERA can pick them up from your home and business instead.

Safety first

Ready to get rid of your stuff?  Experts warn there are a couple of things to consider first:

- Do you know how to safely package items for shipping? Damaged items can pose a hazard to people who handle them. Be sure to ask the organization or shipping company for guidance if you aren’t sure.

- Is your personal information protected? Computers, cell phones, tablets and other mobile devices can contain data you shouldn’t share — like passwords, files, banking information, photographs and contact information. Before you donate or dispose of these items, find out how to clear off the information first. (Some services can handle this step for you.)

- What happens to your electronic waste? If you’re working with an unfamiliar program, ask about how your items will be handled and where they will end up. What policies does the organization follow, and do they have any certifications? (Depending on the province or location.)

We know there’s a lot of information here — and a lot of options out there — but you can’t go wrong connecting with any program or organization that responsibly handles your e-waste. Ultimately, the goal is to keep hazardous materials out of landfills. How you do it is up to you.

Know of a program we missed? Tell us about it in the comments below.

Photo ©iStockphoto.com/ Nathan Gleave

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