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Province charges up electronics recycling

$43-mil pilot means depots will soon take cell phones
electronic recycling CC 2561
Alberta has launched a two-year, $43-million expansion to the province's electronic recycling program that could keep some 12,300 tonnes of material out of the landfill. The pilot will pay communities such as St. Albert the costs to collect previously ineligible items such as game consoles, cell phones, and toys. CHRIS COLBOURNE/St. Albert Gazette

Cell phones, PlayStations and solar panels will soon be eligible for recycling in Alberta as part of a $43-million pilot program.

Alberta Environment Minister Jason Nixon said May 11 he had approved a two-year, $43-million pilot project to expand Alberta’s electronics recycling program. The cash comes from the reserve funds of the Alberta Recycling Management Authority (ARMA), which runs the province’s electronics, paint, tires and used oil recycling programs.

“An expanded electronics program has the potential to inject $30 million annually into Alberta’s economy and support 360 additional full-time jobs in the recycling sector,” Nixon said in a statement, adding the jobs would come from the collection, transportation and processing of electronic goods.

Alberta’s current electronics program covers computers (including displays and peripherals), printers, scanners, photocopiers and fax machines. ARMA collects an eco-fee on these items to cover the cost of recycling them. St. Albert collected about 97 tonnes (about 16 elephants) of electronics in 2018.

But many people assume all electronics are covered and bring items like microwaves to the depot, said ARMA board member and St. Albert Mayor Cathy Heron. Cities and processors have to cover the cost to recycle those items, which recyclers might end up stockpiling or landfilling instead.

“Most Albertans have a good heart when it comes to responsibility for the next generation,” Heron said, and expect these items to be recyclable.

Alberta was the first province in Canada to have an electronics recycling program in 2004. But while other provinces have since taken on and expanded such programs to cover items such as cell phones and game consoles, Alberta has not due to a lack of political interest, said Christina Seidel of the Recycling Council of Alberta.

“This should have happened 10 years ago,” she said of the expansion.

Green jobs

Electronics recycling adds about $50 million and 400 jobs to the Alberta economy, the province estimates.

Under this pilot, the province will expand the list of electronics accepted for recycling to include toys, cell phones, solar panels, small home appliances, musical instruments, portable power tools, wireless devices, and audio-visual, telecommunications and electronic gaming equipment, which will be accepted at no cost to consumers.

This pilot will help the province determine the cost to recycle these items and how likely people are to recycle them in as it considers a permanent expansion to the recycling program, said ARMA CEO Ed Gugenheimer. Municipalities that agree to take part in the pilot will get cash to cover the cost to recycle these new items.

The province estimates it could keep about 12,300 tonnes (about 8,785 cars) worth of these items out of the landfill a year through this pilot.

Seidel questioned the need for a pilot, given that the rest of Canada has been recycling these items for years. She and Heron said the province likely went for a pilot instead of an expansion for political reasons, as residents might view new eco-fees as a tax.

Seidel said Alberta’s recyclers are ready to take on these new products, many of which contain valuable plastics and precious metals.

Heron said this pilot could improve Alberta’s environmental reputation and draw more international investment.

“If we want investment in Alberta, we have to demonstrate we are responsibly running our province.”

Seidel said she hopes this pilot would be a warm-up to a broader extended producer responsibility program in Alberta.

Gugenheimer said the pilot would likely launch this fall.

Visit www.albertarecycling.ca for details on electronics recycling.


Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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