Alberta is preparing to become the first jurisdiction in Canada to put in place a formal electronics recycling program to help divert used computers, printers and televisions from the province’s landfills. A series of workshops and an on-line survey conducted over the past few months have indicated both a need and widespread support for a program to manage and recycle electronic waste (e-waste). Both were part of a consultation process to help shape an e-waste management program which Alberta Environment expects to announce this spring.
More than 118 stakeholders took part in six workshops, held across Alberta during November and December 2003. They represented a total of eight interests, from municipalities to the electronics industry, and provided comments on a draft proposal for a formal, province-wide program to recycle and manage electronic waste (e-waste). Based on their responses, 94% agreed an environmental fee should be charged, and 95% agreed that reasonable access to collection points is important if the program is going to be effective.
The workshop participants considered the products to be included at the start of the program, as well as those proposed for the future, to be appropriate. Comments indicated that as many products as possible should be included in the program launch if the collection, handling, recycling and disposal system could accommodate them.
The list of program costs was viewed as a good start, and participants recommended that they be reviewed again once the program is operating. Costs of particular interest included: storage, handling, recycling and disposal of materials; staff training in safe handling of products; and compliance and enforcement costs.
Almost all participants supported levying an environmental fee to fund the program. They agreed the fee should be visible, collected at the point of purchase, and variable according to product type. It should also, they said, account for historic and orphan electronic products. While a slight majority favoured the concept of a refundable deposit, most participants said this should not be charged in addition to an environmental fee.
The need for reasonable access by consumers to e-waste collection points was strongly supported as well. Based on the workshop input, “reasonable access” takes into account travel time or distance from residences or workplaces to collection points, convenient hours of operation, the needs of each community, and provision of collection to both rural and urban communities.
Participants agreed there is a role for municipal waste management systems to support an e-waste collection network and there may be a role for other collection facilities such as bottle depots. They said, however, that retailers should not be compelled to be part of the collection network.
There was agreement that the program proposal provides a good start on matters such as education and awareness methods, targets and performance measures, management association reporting and accountability. The participants said all of these should be further reviewed once the program is operating.
The on-line survey, conducted in December by the Equus Consulting Group, generated 203 responses, with 96% of respondents indicating their support for an electronics recycling program. Nine stakeholder groups were represented in this survey, and 75% of the respondents identified themselves as “consumers.”
Similar to the workshops, 75% supported charging an environmental fee on program products to fund a recycling program and 89% wanted to ensure reasonable or easy access to collection points throughout the province. Comments focused on concerns related to fee collection, the use of the funds for the program and the need to develop a clear framework for the program.
Ninety-four per cent (94%) believed that audio and video equipment should be included in the program. Comments consistently recommended that any and all electronic components should be included in the program. There was concern expressed about the handling of personal data that might be stored on electronic equipment.
Seventy-five per cent (75%) agreed that an environmental fee should be charged on products to be included in the program. Comments recommended that the fee be reasonable (i.e. the minimum amount required to fund the program) and charged as part of the purchase price. Some felt a fee might create a disincentive for people to participate. Respondents believed that if a fee is established, the use and accountability for the fees collected should be mandatory.
A slight majority of respondents (54%) agreed with a proposal to use environmental fees to cover historic and orphan products. Those who agreed recommended that these products be covered initially and then the situation be evaluated and the fee adjusted accordingly. Those who disagreed maintained that current consumers, manufacturers and retailers should not be held responsible for the costs of receiving, handling, recycling or disposal of historic and orphan products.
In response to a question about levels of environmental fees (using a desktop computer as an example), the top three most frequently selected fee options were “$1 to less than $10” (36%), “$0” (18%) and “$10 to less than $20” (17%). Eleven per cent (11%) didn’t know what the fee should be. Comments frequently recommended that the setting of fees be based on the cost to recycle, the size or overall cost of the product.
Eighty-nine per cent (89%) agreed or strongly agreed that there should be reasonable access to e-waste collection points. Asked to define “reasonable access,” respondents cited the following three criteria 20 or more times each:
1. Equivalent locations to eco stations or bottle depots in major centres.
2. Collection point locations based on population and demand.
3. Collection points located within 10 kilometres or 30 minutes driving time from a residence or business.
The planned program will divert computers, televisions and other electronic products from municipal landfills, collecting, re-using and recycling these items into new products and generating economic opportunities. Arrangements would be made to collect old electronics from communities, similar to other successful Alberta recycling programs for products such as tires and used oil.
The initiative is a key part of the province’s strategy to reach its waste reduction goal of 500 kilograms (kg) of waste per person per year going to landfills by 2010 (down from the current annual level of 750 kg per person).
Summaries of the on-line and stakeholder consultations may be viewed on-line at www.gov.ab.ca/env/waste.
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