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UBC dumps e-waste recycler to seek ethical solution

The University of British Columbia has dropped its electronic waste recycler, saying it is concerned about whether it was ethically…

By Heather Amos , in Environment , on November 13, 2008 Tags: , , , ,

The University of British Columbia has dropped its electronic waste recycler, saying it is concerned about whether it was ethically disposing of computers and other technology.

Electronic waste collected by UBC Waste Management awaits shipment to a recycler
Electronic waste collected by UBC awaits shipment to a recycler

Genesis Recycling Ltd. had been UBC’s e-waste recycler for three years. But the university is unconvinced by its assurances that material isn’t being shipped and dumped abroad hazardously.

Christian Beaudrie, outreach co-ordinator for UBC Waste Management, said the company does not have a strong auditing process and lacks transparency around its dumping protocol. “We’re absolutely not comfortable with staying with the [program]…for that reason,” said Beaudrie.

Genesis has denied UBC’s assertions and insisted it is meeting the guidelines for ethical recycling. “We’re pretty proud of how we handle e-waste here,” said Doug Surtees, the company’s general manager.

“We’re under a lot of scrutiny, we’ve passed all our audits and inspections with flying colours,” he said.

Genesis is a provincially approved recycler with the Western Canada Computer Industry Association (WCCIA), a non-profit society that oversees a voluntary industry certification program to safely dispose of electronics.

But the university sought written assurances of safe disposal and an impartial audit of Genesis’ practices, said Beaudrie. When Genesis would not cooperate, UBC looked elsewhere.

“We’ve given them an adequate chance to prove that they’re handing these things the right way and they’ve failed to do that,” said Beaudrie.

Related: How Canada tackles e-waste

Concerns have arisen in recent years that some Canadian companies are illegally shipping used electronics to such countries as China, India, Nigeria and Ghana, where they are broken down in unsafe conditions for their raw components, many of them toxic. The process poses a severe health risk and environmental damage.

“It’s just terrible to even imagine feeding that process and putting that many people in harm’s way,” said Beaudrie.

Computer waste piled high on the streets of Guiyu, China
Computer waste piled high on the streets of Guiyu, China

Free Geek Vancouver, a non-profit e-waste recycler, estimates that Canada produces 140,000 tons of electronic waste per year, the equivalent of 5.6 million computers. Eighty per cent of this waste is making it overseas. Canada is a signatory to a 1992 United Nations treaty that made it illegal to ship e-waste overseas.

E-waste problems exposed

CBC News recently exposed that shipments of Canadian e-waste was being sent to China from two British Columbia companies that tout safe disposal, Technotrash and Electronics-recycling.com. Technotrash, like Genesis, is a member of the WCCIA.

Surtees said Genesis is in the midst of undergoing the auditing process to become a member of another industry recycling certification program in BC – one of two in the province – the Electronic Stewardship Program of BC (ESABC).

“We knew we would have to make some changes, we didn’t want to give them document that would be out of date in a month. We haven’t gotten anything back from the auditor yet,” said Surtees, who expects the audit back soon.

UBC is looking at Free Geek Vancouver, Simon Fraser University’s e-waste recycler, and Encorp Pacific as possible e-waste recycling companies.

(Photo of Guiyu, China courtesy of Bert van Dijk , CC license)

Comments


  • Hello Heather Amos,

    I have just read your article and I wanted to correct an inaccuracy in your article.

    Encorp Pacific (Canada) is the Program Manager contracted by the Electronic Stewardship Association of BC (ESABC).

    We are not, as your article states, a member of ESABC. Members of ESABC are manufacturers or first importers of obligated electronic products under the BC Recycling Regulation.

    Both ESABC and Encorp Pacific are non-profit organizations. Encorp Pacific is involved in 2 provincially regulated stewardship programs: Beverage and Electronics. We are the steward for Beverage but a contracted program manager for electronics.

    Under the BC Recycling Regulation, Encorp Pacific accepts TVs, computer monitors, computers (CPUs), scanners, desktop printers, fax machines and computer peripherals such as mice and keyboards as obligated products. These products can be dropped off free of charge for recycling at our Return It Electronics ™ collection sites for recycling.

    New products are charged an Environmental Handling Fee (EHF) to cover the cost of recycling. These above products can be recycled regardless of age or whether the original manufacturer is still in business. Proper recycling costs money.

    There are many recyclers or re-use companies out there that don’t charge and broker materials and send end of life electronics to developing nations. Many of these companies cloak themselves under the auspices of re-use only to broker materials internationally for money that end up improperly recycled or disposed.

    We are proud of the recycling standards that we have put in place, that track the downstream flow of materials through to the point of final processing or disposition to ensure potentially hazardous components of EOLE are not sent to developing nations for the purpose of recycling and/or disposal.

    The recycling standard we operate under, the EPSC’s Recycling Vendor Qualifications Program, has been recognized internationally as holding recyclers to an exemplary environmental standard.

    If you would like more information on the methods of recycling and where the products are sent, you can check out our website at http://www.encorp.ca/electronics/productrecycling.

    Thanks
    Tyler Garnes

    Logistics Manager – Electronics
    Encorp Pacific (Canada)
    http://www.encorp.ca

  • Thanks for the comment Tyler. I have amended the story to remove the reference to Encorp as a member of ESABC.

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