Around the world, concern about the rapidly increasing volume of electronic waste (e-waste) is growing. The federal government is taking a leadership role in addressing this issue and has developed an e-waste disposal strategy to ensure that all federal surplus electronic and electrical equipment can be disposed of in an environmentally sound manner.
Every year, thousands of tonnes of electronic and electrical equipment, including large items such as computers and printers, reach the end of their useful life and must be disposed of carefully. This e-waste can have serious implications for the environment and human health if the hazardous substances contained within some electronic equipment are not properly managed.
The federal government purchases large quantities of electronic and electrical equipment every year: computers, office and audio-visual equipment, telecom and security, laboratory and medical devices. However, rapid technological advancement means that equipment becomes obsolete quickly and must be replaced, leading to significant volumes of surplus material. The environmentally sound and secure disposal of this e-waste is a key element of the federal government’s greening government operations agenda.
Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC) is leading this initiative on behalf of the government. Within PWGSC, the Office of Greening Government Operations (OGGO) is responsible for ongoing policy direction, education, communications and support for e-waste management to federal departments and agencies.
In February 2010, PWGSC established a government-wide e-waste strategy for the management of all federal surplus electronic and electrical equipment. The strategy ensures that disposal mechanisms for e-waste are available to government departments and agencies across Canada and represents an important milestone in helping departments play a leadership role by tackling the difficult challenge of disposing of e-waste in an environmentally sound manner.
Emphasizing re-use wherever possible, the government offers surplus computers and related equipment to Industry Canada’s Computers for Schools program. Other types of electronic equipment that are still functional are sold to the public via PWGSC’s Crown Assets Distribution. In some cases, equipment may be transferred to organizations in other levels of government or to charities. These programs extend the useful life of equipment, maximizing its overall value and delaying consumption of raw material and energy to produce new products.
Equipment that cannot be directed to organizations for reuse is recycled. Where possible, equipment is directed to provincial e-waste recycling programs. Equipment that cannot be managed by provincial programs is directed to the recently established standing offer for e-waste recycling services.
In addition, PWGSC is adopting a target to standardize departmental IT hardware and management in its own operations, with a view to reducing the number of devices, saving energy and facilitating end-of-life programs with recyclers. This pilot initiative is expected to be expanded to other government departments and agencies.
The establishment of a standing offer is a key element of the e-waste disposal strategy. The standing offer allows departments to dispose of end-of-life electronic equipment not covered by existing mechanisms. PWGSC is managing access to the standing offer via the National Service Call Centre. In total, the government expects to dispose of about 2,000 tonnes of equipment per year, through all disposal mechanisms.
Other federal departments contribute expertise to the management of e-waste. For example, Environment Canada and Natural Resources Canada provide technical advice regarding environmentally sound management criteria and sustainable development. In addition, the RCMP and Communications Security Establishment Canada provide advice on the secure destruction of information on electronic media.
By ensuring that surplus electronics are reused where possible and by ensuring that e-waste is directed to qualified recyclers, the federal government can prevent this material from ending up in Canadian landfills or in developing countries.
Caroline Weber is Assistant Deputy Minister of Corporate Services, Communications and Policy Branch for Public Works and Government Services Canada.
Did you know?
- About 95 percent of electronic equipment can be recycled into valuable materials such as aluminum, copper and precious metals that can be used in the manufacture of new products.
- Since 2004, some 400,000 computers have been donated to Computers for Schools by the federal government. In March 2010, Computers For Schools delivered its 1,000,000th refurbished computer to a school, library, not-for-profit learning organization or Aboriginal community.
- On November 12, 2008, Crown Assets Disposal ceased selling bulk electronics where there was no known plan to reuse the items.