How to safely recycle electronics

Posted on Jan. 18, 2016 by CPO in smartmoves

Modern electronic gizmos and gadgets, such as cordless phones, electric toothbrushes and MP3 players, have made our lives easier and more pleasant in many ways. However, disposing of them when their useful life is over can be a problem, both for consumers and for municipal waste departments. More than 140,000 tonnes of e-waste—the weight of 1.5 CN Towers—is discarded in Canada each year. Unfortunately these handy tools and toys are made with materials that don’t biodegrade and may even leach harmful chemicals into the environment through the landfill. The good news is that many electronics can be recycled, allowing harmful materials to be disposed of safely and useful parts to be retrieved and repurposed. Here is a quick guide to recycling your old electronics.

Why recycle electronics?

Recycling electronics you no longer use keeps them—and any environmentally-harmful materials they contain— out of the landfill. The Canadian not-for-profit Electronic Products Recycling Association (EPRA) says their programs help divert 100,000 tonnes of old electronics out of landfills each year—that’s equivalent to the weight of 20,000 elephants. In addition to reducing waste, recycling electronics helps prevent the chemicals and materials they are made with (for example, lead, selenium, cadmium) from leaking out into our land and water.

Recycling also allows many of the materials the electronics are made of, such as plastics and precious metals, to be reclaimed and reused. The David Suzuki Foundation reports that 96% of the materials in mobile devices are recyclable, and the Ontario Electronic Stewardship says that 1 ton of recycled smartphones yields 324 times more gold than the same weight of ore. The organization adds that reclaiming the metal from the mobile devices may be more efficient and environmentally sensitive than mining raw materials. 

What can be recycled?

The electronics you can recycle depend on the recycling partner accepting them, but generally speaking you can recycle items such as:

  • Computers and peripherals (for example, keyboard and mouse)
  • TVs and computer monitors
  • Printers, scanners
  • Home theatre equipment (DVD player, radio, cable or satellite receiver)
  • Car stereo equipment
  • Cell phones and non-cellular telephones and answering machines
  • Personal electronics (MP3 player, baby monitor, or headphones)
  • Digital and non-digital cameras and video recorders

Some recycling programs will accept microwave ovens, batteries, battery-operated toys, electronic musical instruments and various wires and cables. Check with your local municipal waste department, or find the electronics recycling program for your province.

Protect your privacy: Before dropping it off for recycling, be sure to delete all personal information from your mobile phone, computer, camera or other device that stores data.

Who recycles old electronics?

Provincial electronic recycling programs
In 8 provinces across Canada you can recycle electronics through programs coordinated by the EPRA. The EPRA partners with local municipalities, retailers and others to provide drop-off locations for unwanted electronics. In Alberta, contact Alberta Recycling and in New Brunswick, contact Recycle NB. In Canadian territories, contact your territorial government to see what options exist.

Very few municipalities collect electronics at the curb for recycling, but the City of Toronto collects specially-bagged electronics as part of their curbside recycling pick-up, and also offers drop-off at their depots. Check with your municipality to see if they offer any local recycling for electronics or batteries.

Retailer and manufacturer recycling programs
Some stores that sell electronics also accept them back for recycling, such as:

  • Best Buy stores accept items such as electronics and batteries for recycling.
  • Staples office supply stores take electronics, batteries and printer ink/toner cartridges for recycling.
  • London Drugs stores collect small electronics and other items for recycling.

Major telecommunications providers like Bell, Telus, SaskTel and Videotron each have cell phone recycling programs, as do phone makers like Motorola, LG and BlackBerry. While Apple Canada and Sony Canada support the provincial EPRA programs, they also take back their own products for recycling. Apple in particular says they are often able to reuse or reclaim up to 90% of a product (by weight).

Donate old electronics instead
If your cell phone or computer equipment still has some life left in it, consider donating it to a charity that provides these devices to individuals and businesses in need. reboot Canada recycles, refurbishes and distributes donated computer equipment to charities, non-profits and individuals in need, as does Raven Recycling in Yukon Territory. Some Habitat for Humanity ReStores accept old electronics for recycling for a fee, which they use to fund their charitable work. Cell Phones for Soldiers Canada distributes donated cell phones, video cameras and laptops to Canadian troops, enabling them to communicate with loved ones at home while overseas.

Some provincial recycling programs, such as the Electronic Recycling Association of Alberta, may refurbish donated computers to give to those in need, when possible, instead of recycling them. Check with your provincial, territorial or municipal recycling programs for local donation opportunities.

With so many options available in most parts of the country, it’s not hard to recycle or donate your cell phone, computer or other electronic device when you’re done with it. Bonus: You’ll feel good, knowing you’re helping to reduce e-waste in Canada.