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Electronics: the world's fastest growing waste stream

Yes, e-waste is the fastest growing waste stream.

Everything is becoming a piece of electronics from our watches to thermostats.

Now, due to higher consumption and shorter life cycles coupled with fewer options to repair, we are faced with a growing challenge. According to UN’s global E-waste Monitor 2020, the growth in 2019 is up by 21% in just five years and doubling in 16 years by 2030, making e-waste the world’s fastest-growing domestic waste stream.


Warning: Ontario Focused

This newsletter will focus on how Ontario is changing the way we handle electronic waste.

In Ontario, e-waste diversion is managed by Resource Productivity & Recovery Authority or RPRA. This body was created to help support the transition to a circular economy. RPRA also manages other waste diversion programs such as our curbside blueboxes.

What is defined as Electronics?

RPRA defines electronics any equipment that has a primary purpose of collecting, storing, processing, presenting, or communication information, including sounds and images.

But the technical terms that is used is ITT/AV- Information technology, telecommunications, audio-visual equipment.

Aren’t acronyms fun?

This includes the following:

- Computers- obviously

- Printers

- Video gaming devices

- Display devices like monitors and tvs

- Telephones/ cell phones

- Radios/ stereos

- Speakers

- Cameras, including security cameras,

- Drones- yes!

- Musical instruments

- Point of sale terminals or devices


Old way of handling e-waste in Ontario

Since 2009, Ontario Electronics Stewardship (OES) has been overseeing the recovery of electronics. If you have bought a TV or PC in the past 11 years, chances are you have paid “environmental handling fees”. This would be about $25 for a laptop.

In the simplest terms, OES would then take this money that you paid to the retailers like Best Buy, and made sure recyclers got paid when they recycled your dead laptop at the end of its life. The program worked well even though it had its limitations.  


New way of handling e-waste in Ontario

Now, Ontario is moving towards Individual Producer Responsibility (IPR). This means that producers of electronics that we just defined, are accountable for their products and packaging once consumers are finished with them. RPRA is setting mandatory and enforceable requirements for resource recovery and gives producers choices for resource recovery services in a competitive market.  

This begins on January 1, 2021.


How does it work?

Producers are now responsible for submitting their yearly supply data meaning how much they sold to the Ontario market. Then, they are responsible for recovering a portion of what they sold.

In 2021, producers need to recover 55% of what they sold to Ontarians in 2018. Every year the percentage that is required for them to sell is increased until reaching the maximum of 70% in 2025.


Cool incentives:

- Producers that use recycled content in their products can reduce their recovery requirements

- Producers that provide a free warranty to ensure the functionality of their products can also reduce their recovery requirement numbers

- Producers must make reasonable efforts to encourage the public to reduce, reuse, and recycle

- There is also additional incentive for producers who provide repair services to consumers

What does it mean for the consumer?

Not much will change for consumers.

In this competitive market, many producers are going to be advertising drop off locations, mail in programs, or events to collect as much volume as possible. Some may even do curbside collection programs.

Depending on how this market shakes out, it may mean that producers will have to get very innovative and start digging for e-waste in new locations. This is great news where historically there has been little to no recovery such as First Nations communities and/or rural parts of Northern Ontario.


What’s the drawback?

I personally hope that we have enough resources, meaning recyclers, to process the recovery of e-waste in an environmentally responsible and ethical manner. RPRA has firmly defined the responsibility of producers of electronics and their mandates but just as much diligence needs to be invested in making sure the recovery processes are responsible.

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