Monday, April 13, 2009

Ontario launches Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) program

It’s finally time to get rid of those obsolete computers and other electronic junk that has been piling up in your basement. Ontario Electronic Stewardship (OES) unveiled its much-anticipated Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) on March 31. The industry developed and funded program has the goal of diverting 160,000 tonnes of electronic waste from the landfill over the next five years.

Electronic waste has become a global problem as our appetite for the latest and best in technology accelerates with each passing year.

“In 2007, the average home computer was 2.5 years old, down from 2.7 only a year before. A quarter of computer owners replace their machines every year,” writes environmental lawyer Diane Saxe. “The United Nations says that 20 to 50 million tonnes of electronic waste is generated every year.” Saxe says that Ontarians produce about 70,000 tonnes of electronic waste annually.

Electronic equipment often contains dangerous toxins such as mercury, lead and arsenic. When electronics are not safely recycled, these toxins can eventually find their way into the air we breathe and the water that we drink.

Phase one of the WEEE program targets computers, printers, monitors and other computer paraphernalia along with televisions for reuse and recycling. The ultimate goal of the program is to divert 60 per cent of electronic wastes from landfill.

Until now, Ontario municipalities provided the only opportunity to recycle discarded electronics through special municipal collections and waste depots. Given the high cost of disposing of electronic waste, many of the waste depots have operated on a user-pay system. As a result, residents who have chosen to responsibly dispose of unwanted electronics sometimes ended up paying a hefty price.

The new WEEE program is funded through fees paid to the OES, a non-profit organization established to collect and distribute fees collected from brand owners, first importers into Ontario and assemblers of electronic products. The OES will pay for all of the program costs, which are estimated to be at least $ 48 million per year. The cost, which will ultimately be past on to the consumer, includes collection, transportation, consolidation, processing, research and development and consumer information and education programs.

The program will operate through a network of collection sites where businesses and consumers can drop off unwanted electronics. Cell phones and cameras will be added in later phases of the program.

“In this age of increasing electronic technology, too many of us find ourselves at a loss when it comes to dealing with unwanted waste electronics,” said Carol Hochu, OES executive director. “Too often this means they end up in the garbage or may be shipped to countries where health and environmental standards may receive less attention than here in Ontario. By setting up a network of certified collectors and processors, our waste electronics diversion program will make sure these end-of-life materials are managed properly.”

The WEEE program is the latest one to be established under the guidance of Waste Diversion Ontario (WDO) a crown corporation that was created under the Waste Diversion Act in 2002. The WDO’s mandate is to develop, implement and operate waste diversion programs for a wide range of materials. Key to the WDO’s programs is industry accountability. For example, the WDO’s Blue Box program requires that industries that contribute materials into the blue box pay 50 percent of the net cost of recycling.

Unlike the industry funded blue box program, which provides householders with the convenience of curbside pick up for many recyclable items, electronics will have to be dropped off at designated collection site. Entering a postal code, municipality or type of material to be recycled on the Do What You Can website will provide a list of nearest locations.

In addition to municipality drop-off centers and electronic retailers, as of April 1st, Salvation Army Thrift Stores will expand their electronics program to include items identified in phase one of the program.

On Saturday, April 25th, Sears Canada will host a “take-back” day in the parking lots of 14 of their stores in Eastern Ontario. The following week on May 1st, STAPLES Canada will begin collecting electronic wastes at 17 of its retail stores. It’s important to note that televisions will not be collected as part of the STAPLES program.


To find the nearest WEEE collection site or for information about the Municipal Hazardous or Special Waste (MHSW) program which was launched in January, visit

For more WEEE program information, check out

Waste Diversion Ontario

For the latest in environmental law updates, visit Dianne Saxe’s informative website at Saxe Environmental Law News.


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