Climate Change Action of the Month: Hamilton Conservation Authority and E-Waste
This year the Hamilton Conservation Authority held an e-waste recycling day that yielded 850lbs of electronics that could then be recycled sustainably. Think about all the waste that this one event diverted from the landfill!
What is E-Waste?
In simple terms e-waste is short for electronic waste and includes everything that has ever run on batteries or a plug – including the batteries and plugs themselves! E-waste is a fairly new environmental issue compared to some since the technologies are new themselves. One thing is for certain, every year we produce more and more e-waste as many aspects of our lives are digitized.
- Batteries – household and automotive
- PCs and Laptops
- Wheel Weights
- Circuit Boards
- GPS Units
- Power Tools
- Toner Cartridges
- Mercury Devices
Why is E-Waste an Environmental Issue?
- Toxic Leachate – Electronics contain toxic chemicals such as mercury, cadmium, lead, phosphors, arsenic, and beryllium which lead to environmental and health complications, which is why e-waste is banned from local landfills, but many people still throw out these products in the trash releasing these toxic chemicals into the landfill – contaminating soil and groundwater over time.
- Toxic Emissions – In some areas of the globe, much of the e-waste created is being illegally exported to developing countries like China and India for disposal due to their less strict environmental laws and regulations. Most of this waste gets incinerated, releasing the toxic chemicals discussed directly into the atmosphere.
- Greenhouse Gas Emissions – Both production and disposal create large amounts of GHG emissions that can contribute to climate change. This is amplified when e-waste is not disposed of properly or shipped to other countries for disposal.
- Creation of Unnecessary Waste – Most of the time when we get a new phone or laptop it isn’t actually necessary; there is usually an upgrade or exciting new gadget that catches our eye. By approaching consumerism that way we create unnecessary waste, a cycle that continues as demand continues. There are so many steps that go into making electronics – mining the minerals, manufacturing, distribution, purchasing and disposal. Anything we can do to ease this never-ending cycle can make huge impact. Check out the Story of Stuff for more on the lifecycle of electronics.
Think Globally, Act Locally
When tackling the issue of e-waste and all the environmental problems that come with it every municipality and country has different regulations so be sure to check out what rules apply to you when disposing of e-waste. In Hamilton, you can bring any items that are not permitted in the landfill to a Community Recycling Centre to have it disposed of properly.
In addition to municipal drop centres and e-waste drives like the one hosted by the HCA there are also drop offs at many of the large electronic store chains like Best Buy that will collect and recycle your e-waste in a safe and sustainable manner.
What can you do?
Here are some next steps any individual can take to reduce e-waste volumes if possible or recycle the materials properly
- Reduce and Reuse whenever Possible – it can be difficult with new technologies coming out on a yearly basis to not upgrade; in fact they do this on purpose to tempt you! Your 3 year old phone still works perfectly but all your friends have shiny new models and you think why not – think twice
- Recycle – If you have to have the latest and greatest in technology but your old device is still functional then recycle it! Whether you gift it to a friend in need or you try and sell it, recycling prevents the need for someone else to go out and purchase their own new product. Old electronics can also be donated and given out to low income areas who might not be able to have their own computer otherwise. Just remember to wipe all your personal information before donating electronics.
- Share! – Tell people about what you have accomplished; it is ok to celebrate doing something good. Also by sharing your stories you unconsciously invite others to make similar changes as well. The key to environmental initiatives is awareness and engagement, by sharing your stories you let people know what is possible on an individual level.
- NEVER throw E-waste in the garbage – In no situation should you ever throw e-waste in your garbage bins. It can be tempting to think ‘it’s just one battery’ when you are in a hurry but like I have been saying; small actions lead to large changes. If everyone in Hamilton threw out just 1 battery a week there would be over 500 000 batteries in the landfill every single week! Tip: Save all your small electronics in a jar or bin and when it is full take it to a drop-off location. This saves your time by not making a special trip every time you need to dispose of a battery and keeps it out of our landfills.
Local actions are capable of global changes and can be as simple as saving all your batteries in a jar and disposing of them properly when it is full. Leave us a comment below and share what small actions you do that add up to help the environment!
Written by: Ashley Keenan