Where Has All the E-waste Gone

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Today the Ontario Government agreed set into place its long awaited e-waste collection program. Well I may be exaggerated the long awaited part for some people but for others…
At the University the Environmental Law Students Association (ELSA) has taken it upon themselves over the past few years to host and coordinate e-waste drives. Certainly a noble cause since so many people are completely clueless about the deep secrets that electronic waste hides. Let me elaborate briefly.

1- E-waste is not like normal waste; once in the landfill it leaks toxic heavy metals which pollute the groundwater.
2- A good deal of e-waste ends up in China or India where peasants live in giant e-waste landfills. The inhabitants “mine” the precious metals in the computers and electronic components. They are exposed to toxic chemicals as they tear apart the components and burn the plastics for heat.

And so forth and so on.

So, back to ELSA. Last year on Earth Day ESLA helped to host a massive e-waste drive. It was a kind of amnesty day for electronics, and when I say amnesty I am not exaggerating. I had so many people coming up and thanking me. I got stories about electronics piling up in the closet, casting evil sneers at their owners, taunting them to put them out on the curb. I truly got the sense that some people felt like they were prisoners to the e-waste.

And now there is a new hope. The Ontario government has introduced a simple solution, bring your e-waste back to select locations (starting with the Salvation Army and moving on to places like Best Buy) and they will take your waste free of charge. Well maybe not entirely free. The cost of the program is supposed to be paid for by industry and retailers but it will likely end up on the backs of consumers.

So what? After what I experienced last year, I think that nobody is going to have a problem with paying a bit more for their electronics if it means that it is disposed of in a responsible manner.

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