Transformational Change

 

Technology is one of the biggest catalysts for change. Along with improving quality of life, putting useful information at our fingertips, and solving age-old problems, technology can inspire new ideas and approaches. This is certainly true in Alberta, where exponential tech advances are sparking new developments in the recycling sector.

 

As consumers put down old devices in favour of the newest gadgets, they leave behind electronic waste. The natural question is what to do with the undesirable and now-obsolete electronics, which often contain lead, mercury, cadmium and other toxic substances.

The risk is that these devices could potentially leach chemicals into the soil and pollute the environment if they are sent to landfill. The flip side is that when they connect with the right hands, these retired gadgets contain valuable raw materials that could be shipped back into the manufacturing supply chain and used as feedstock to make new products.

 

Recognizing the rapidly evolving tech landscape, ARMA launched a two-year pilot project focused on expanded electronics recycling. On September 1, 2020, the list of recyclable electronics grew to seven broad categories with 500 plus items accepted. The idea is that data gathered from this initiative will better inform the Alberta government and others on how electronics recycling can level up in the future.

 

In addition to being able to drop off televisions, computers, and associated equipment, recycling depots are now collecting small home appliances, audio visual equipment, telecom, cell phone and wireless devices, electronic gaming equipment, portable power tools, toys, musical instruments, lawn and garden products, and solar panels.

In addition to being able to drop off televisions, computers, and associated equipment, recycling depots are now collecting small home appliances, audio visual equipment, telecom, cell phone and wireless devices, electronic gaming equipment, portable power tools, toys, musical instruments and solar panels.

While ARMA has been recycling larger electronic equipment since 2004, it is anticipated that the e-pilot will facilitate collection of an additional 24,600 tonnes of tech that was previously unable to be accepted at recycling depots. The initiative will also make a significant dent in landfill use with an estimated 12,300 tonnes – the equivalent weight of 8,785 average cars – likely to be diverted to a more functional future.

 


 

In advance of the initiative launch, ARMA started an e-pilot awareness push this spring. Over the years, electronic devices were stockpiled at registered recycling facilities and some depots in anticipation of the expanded program. To date, thanks to the help of participating municipalities and Indigenous communities, over 68,000 devices have been collected and categorized, and 4,661 tonnes of techy items have been processed. 

As part of the e-pilot ARMA is also feeding into the national Recycle My Cell program. This work is exploring reuse opportunities for cell phones along with end-of-life solutions however the chatter to date has revealed that less than one percent of devices collected would be suitable for reuse. But the solar panel element of our e-pilot is clearing the way for a bright future. Solar panel recycling has not yet been explored in Canada, so any ARMA program developments would be leading-edge.

There are many positive spin-offs from the pilot which is set to power down in December 2022. ARMA anticipates that program enhancements and expansion could be the catalyst for an additional 360 full time jobs on top of the 400 existing full-time jobs generated through electronics recycling. The information gathered over the course of the pilot will also be integral in understanding electronics recycling patterns and preferences and setting a compensation model which admittedly could use an upgrade. The current model has not been updated since the program’s inception in 2004.

 

In the meantime, ARMA is busy gathering data and encouraging participation. A competition is currently underway with registered collection sites to see which municipality can collect the most e-pilot material on a per-capita basis by the end of the year. Stay connected in early 2022 to hear who is top of the tech heap.

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