Alberta’s new environment minister is considering expanding the mandatory electronics recycling program to help keep mercury, lead and other toxins out of the province’s water, and keep valuable commodities out of our landfills.
Jason Nixon says he is asking to be briefed on a file that past Alberta governments have been negligent on for the past 15 years.
“Recycling benefits all Albertans and this government is committed to protecting our environment and reducing the amount of waste sent to the province’s landfills. We’re always looking for ways to improve our recycling efforts, and are looking forward to working with stakeholders in the most fiscally responsible and innovative way possible,” Nixon said Tuesday.
“Not only will removing more electronics from our landfills save valuable land and resources, but it will protect our land and water from mercury and other items that are toxic to every living thing,” said Nixon.
Norm Racine, director of communications at Shanked Computer Recycling in Acheson, just outside of Edmonton, says it’s long past time for the province to move forward in this area.
“Alberta was the first province to bring in electronics recycling with a levy in Canada in 2004 — that was Phase 1 and we’ve been stuck there ever since — more than 15 years,” said Racine.
So, while Alberta was first out of the gate it is now lagging far behind other provinces because of political cowardice.
The NDP government that was defeated in the April 16 provincial election liked to paint itself as so green. It spent millions of taxpayer dollars paying people to replace citizens’ light bulbs with foreign-supplied LED bulbs, but it never had the courage to move to the next phase of this vital recycling program that would not only keep bulky items such as microwaves out of the landfills, but prevent toxic items from leaching into our groundwater and rivers, says Racine.
“The amount of consultations that have gone on with several different environment ministers over 15 years and different branches of the provincial government is staggering,” said Racine.
“The bill is drawn up, it’s already been vetted but past governments are concerned that the media in particular is going to call it a tax,” said Racine.
That, however, is not what it is. The government never gets its hands on one cent of the money.
Here’s how it works. Currently, every time an Alberta consumer buys a new computer, laptop, tablet, printer, monitor, fax, scanner or television, they pay a small environmental levy. The fee on a new laptop computer, for instance, is $1.20. The highest fee is $10 for televisions larger than 30 inches.
That money is collected by the not-for-profit agency Alberta Recycling Management Authority, which then doles out the money to the registered processors who break these items down to their various components — plastic, glass and metals, as well as toxic materials such as mercury, lead and cadmium.
Racine says 80 per cent of the mercury and lead found in waterways around the world comes from consumer goods and not industry, as many believe.
Fluorescent tubing, used in lights, computers, monitors and televisions, all contain mercury. According to Alberta Recycling, since 2004, 11,387 tonnes of hazardous material has been safely and properly handled during the recycling process, including 295 tonnes of lead in 2018 alone.
All of the electronic items can be dropped off at any one of 372 collection sites across the province free of charge.
Alberta Recycling warns that electronics that are not treated in this manner often end up in a developing country where people working in squalid conditions remove valuable components, exposing the workers to toxic materials and allowing mercury, for instance, to flow into streams or into the ground where it contaminates the environment.
Recycling these Phase 1 electronics items protects the environment, saves natural resources, conserves energy, saves many millions of dollars in valuable landfill space and creates jobs. Alberta Recycling also recycles paint, tires and used oil and filters, all of which have small point-of-purchase fees to pay for the recycling of the item.
It’s all win-win-win-win-win.
According to Alberta Recycling’s 2018 Progress Report, 75 per cent of Albertans are in favour of expanding the program to include other electronic devices, including microwave ovens, toasters, vacuum cleaners, hair dryers and power tools.
British Columbia is now at Phase 5. In other words, every electronic device that can be plugged in or uses batteries is kept out of landfill sites, and the plastic, metals and glass are reused to make other items.
“Expanding this program is a slam dunk and I, for one, think it’s recklessly irresponsible and actually shameful that it’s taken this long,” said Racine.
“Moving to Phase 2 will keep 250-odd items, like microwaves and vacuum cleaners, out of the landfill at no cost to government, no cost to taxpayers, with just a very minimal cost to the user to protect the environment.”
Licia Corbella is a Postmedia opinion columnist. email@example.com