E-waste: the nightmare after Christmas

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      By Jordan Eunson

      Whether it’s a new iPhone 4S or a copy of the latest video game, Christmas has become an orgy of electronic delights for the average urban Canadian. With the arrival of new electronic gizmos and gadgets, many people end up with duplicate or outdated electronic hardware. Unfortunately, most of this old hardware gets thrown into the garbage and thus becomes e-waste. As the general public becomes environmentally aware, more and more people are asking: isn’t there someone who could use this? Good news, everyone—there is.

      In 1989, Canada signed a treaty called the Basel Convention. The Basel Action Network—a global, nongovernmental organization which works in North America, the European Union, and parts of the developing world—was named after the convention. BAN is dedicated to disposing e-waste in nontoxic ways as well as outlawing the toxic dumping of e-waste. In signing the Basel Convention, Canada agreed to implement the highest standards of environmental and social responsibility for e-waste recycling.

      To date, Canada has done little to enforce the Basel Convention. E-waste, is dumped in our alleys, our rivers, and landfills, where carcinogenic metals such as beryllium and cadmium leak into our soil and drinking water. In addition, the CBC has reported that e-waste is being exported from parts of Canada to the developing world, such as Guiyu, China.

      According to Environment Canada, 140,000 tonnes of e-waste are dumped annually in landfills. This amount is expected to increase. We need to find better solutions to this growing toxic waste problem. While the instinctive thing to do is plan for better recycling facilities, the most effective immediate action you can take is to reuse your old hardware.

      There are organizations popping up everywhere that take old computers, refurbish them, and then give them away to communities and organizations in need. One such organization is Free Geek Vancouver, a nonprofit in East Vancouver that will take any computer or computer-related equipment and refurbish it for the community. This volunteer-based organization also sells low cost computer equipment in its thrift store and ethically recycles what they can’t reuse. They give out more than 600 refurbished computers every year.

      So, after your turkey sandwiches have run their course and the Christmas lights have been packed away, take a moment to consider what you are going to do with that old PS2 or cellphone. Someone, somewhere needs your old gear and there are organizations that would be thankful for your donations.

      Jordan Eunson is an entrepreneur based in Vancouver. His company Copious Communications has created and integrated computer networks for the Vancouver film industry, architectural and design firms, and various companies throughout the city. As a diehard techie he has been fascinated with the newest and coolest hardware since being a child. In his mid 20s he began to think about what might be happening to the old computers that his and other companies were throwing away. This led him to over five years of researching e-waste in British Columbia.




      Dec 6, 2011 at 3:02pm

      true that. Free Geeks are a beautiful model for solving the problem with e-waste AND the digital divide. Freecycle and the gift economy help too!

      Clinton Grandy

      Mar 20, 2012 at 5:32am

      I just love Free Geek, and taking care of the environment and learning more and more about computers is a passion of mine! I was evaluating computers the other day for the first time and wow what a load of information, great fun, I'm so busy with my music acting and mining career however it's hard to fit Free Geek in every day, but boy do I ever enjoy using my very own Free Geek computer!