Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Rest of the Recycling Story

Our critique of the Saskatchewan Waste Electronic Equipment Program (SWEEP) in a recent commentary led to an appearance on John Gormley Live. We pointed out only some of the problems and SWEEP board chair Joan Meyer responded on air.

An entire commentary could be made on Meyer's responses themselves. For starters, Meyer says that it was the precedent in Europe that got governments looking at recycling programs, to which the industry responded. It's true that Europe was ahead of North America, but the electronics industry certainly did take a proactive role in Canada to seize the day before legislation was forced on them. As well, the European example actually shows the inferiority of provincial programs in Canada because it leaves electronics manufacturers off the hook for life-cycle costs, re-use, and manufacturing of less polluting products in the first place.

No, the electronics industry was indeed pushing this file and actually proposing the legislation. Consider this 2002 document made for the Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC). In 2003, the Electronics Product Stewardship Canada was formed to help influence governments on what environmental legislation was coming. David Betts, formerly of ITAC became its CEO and president. Incredibly, he also became Chair of the Board of SWEEP itself while still holding the EPSC post.

Shortly after the SWEEP program was implemented, David Betts resigned from both SWEEP (see page 3 of the annual report) and the EPSC. On June 1, as soon as his resignations had taken effect, Betts joined the management team at eCycle Solutions where he is currently a vice-president.

Ever since the SWEEP program was first implemented in 2007, Alberta-based eCycle Solutions has been exclusively tasked with recycling the televisions and monitors collected at SARCAN and in B.C.'s similar program. For eCycle Solutions and EPSC companies, industry-led, government-mandated programs have proven lucrative. However, a system that de-emphasizes re-use and restricts private sector participation is second-rate for the environment, consumers slapped with eco-fees, and recyclers shut out of the system.


eCycle Solutions must be aware of our last commentary, seeing that they changed their website already. In our commentary, we noted the comment on an eCycle Solutions webpage that read, "Because we are government subsidized our services represent a significant cost savings for you." Immediately after the CTF brought this to light, they removed this sentence from their webpage, as can be seen here. As proof, we have posted a screenshot of the former site online.

Meyer defended the no re-use policy of SWEEP (even though by now even other provincial programs have embraced it somewhat). Meyer claims that only 1% of computers and TVs donated to SARCAN can be reused. This low estimate is laughable to any private sector recycler, who often receive re-usable products because the donors know that SARCAN will simply destroy it. This refurbishment is a large part of the private sector recycler's business.

A few hours after today's CTF's radio appearance on John Gormley Live, Darcy Moen of Second Time Office Equipment (pictured here) emailed to say,

We've had a rush of folks coming in dropping off ewaste today. Close to 30 tons today. Folks are saying, we heard about you on the Radio...its terrible what SWEEP is doing to you...here is our ewaste, I hope you can make a buck or two with it....we don't want to support SARCAN.

One guy came in with 30 pieces in his truck. SARCAN told him they will only take 3 pieces, the rest have to be palletized and taken to the commercial drop off center on Albert Street. The guy said f___ it, and drove in here...


Meyer claims that company's like Moen's were always able to participate in the SWEEP program if they kept their recycling and refurbishing streams of operation separate. Not so. We posted a copy of the original .pdf application form where it plainly states,
This qualification process is strictly for recycling/dismantling processes and excludes applicants that utilize reuse or refurbishing processes. Applicants may apply for qualification as a reuse service provider or as a recycler/dismantler, but not both. Only one application per organization or company, including affiliates, will be accepted.
This has has since changed somewhat, as the new document posted here reveals. Yet, it still says, "Only materials supplied through SWEEP qualify for SWEEP compensation."

Unfortunately, the practical reality for private sector recyclers shut out from SWEEP has not changed. Three private sector recyclers, including Second Time Office Equipment, tried to get into the program recently and were declined. One reason was that they proposed using Potter's Industries Inc. in Moose Jaw for its glass recycling. They were told by Product Care (a B.C. non-profit that runs the SWEEP program) that they couldn't use Potter's because it did not meet the new standards for environmental specifications. The problem is, these are the very same glass recyclers that SARCAN uses for its computers! Product Care says, yes, but this was established under the old rules...


Second Time Office Equipment was also part of a joint application from a number of private sector recyclers to establish their own version of SWEEP, something that provincial legislation would seem to allow. It even included the idea of having the participating companies place a transport container (for free) at every municipal landfill in order to prevent such waste from going there. However, the environment minister has nixed this option as well.

That's too bad. Consider this report authored by the Information Technology Association of Canada in 2002 which says,
SARCAN initiated an IT waste recovery program consisting of three drop-off sites in Saskatchewan in December, 2000. The program collected over 15,000 units in the first year of operation (2001). 57 tonnes of material was recycled, and 5,000 CRTs were landfilled due to lack of economical processing options locally. An analysis of the costs of the program is incomplete as of March 2001.
At six pounds of lead per monitor, that's 15 tons of lead in the landfill that could potentially leak into the water supply. This was prior to SWEEP, yet even under the new program, this could still happen anywhere. However, some municipalities, school boards, and government agencies that are consciencious in this area are in fact, using the private sector to deal with their eWaste because they prefer such services to those received at SARCAN.

The intention of SWEEP to expand this program to all electronics in Saskatchewan should have every consumer and private sector recycler concerned.

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