Innovation to Close the Loop in Recycling 3R

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It’s almost impossible to imagine a day without technology – for example, your tablet, that one device that you can take everywhere that acts as computer, camera, music and movie player and more. The evolution of these devices has been rapid. Just a few years ago, multiple devices would be needed to fulfil your tablet’s purposes.

That multi-functionality, driven by rapid technological innovation and design, is making our lives easier every day, but it also comes with the expectation that we think ahead to where they will end up when they reach the end of their useful life. Products are getting smaller, lighter and more environmentally efficient. Take television sets: two decades ago, most households were upgrading from their old picture-tube TVs, often weighing more than 40 kilograms, to plasma TVs. Not only were plasma TVs smaller and lighter, they reduced their environmental footprint with smarter design and materials.

Not much later, LCD TVs replaced plasma TVs, and are now being replaced with what is thought to be the most environmentally efficient and smartly designed TV to date, LED TVs, which use fewer materials and save energy.

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This accelerated market transformation is what is continuing to drive the Electronic Products Recycling Association of B.C., an industry-led, not-for-profit organization tasked with promoting and managing the recycling of end-of-life electronics.

B.C. was one of the first provinces to require industry to take responsibility for electronics recycling in 2007. Through the network of 226 electronics collection sites, Return-It™ Depots, retail take-back locations and alternative drop-off events in B.C., we’ve collected and recycled 131,000 metric tonnes of electronics, which is equivalent to 14,500 full semi-trailers—in total, we have diverted more than 20.3 million devices from landfills.

The good news is, 80 percent of B.C. residents know how and where to dispose of end-of life electronics in an environmentally friendly way. EPRA B.C. has worked diligently to make electronics recycling accessible: people don’t have to go far to recycle their obsolete electronics. In fact, over 98% of BC residents live within 30 minutes of a depot in urban areas and within 45 minutes in rural areas.

Extended producer responsibility programs, introduced in the province over the past two decades, have seen industry assume responsibility for end-of-life management of items such as electronics, beverage containers, paint, used oil, tires and batteries. (For a full list of accepted products visit: return-it.ca/electronics/products)

At the heart of extended producer responsibility is the idea that involving producers in the process of recycling goods at the end of their life will encourage changes in product design and selection of materials to reduce impact and waste. This, along with consumer demand for products that consider the entire life cycle, drives producers to make and sell products that are more durable and sustainable, leaving a smaller environmental footprint.

While electronics continue to evolve in their design for the environment, EPRA B.C. can’t ignore the collection and recycling of obsolete products so they don’t end up in landfills. This “orphan waste” is the most expensive and complicated to recycle, and leaves a bigger impact on the environment should it end up in a landfill.

EPRA B.C. and Return-It™ continue to drive consumer awareness on the importance of rounding up these products, and ensuring they reach a collection site to be recycled responsibly. As the electronics industry moves toward lighter, smaller, multifunctional products, this will reduce the tonnage of devices collected annually. To that end, as we embrace this positive trend of miniaturization, the industry will continue to move from strictly weight-based metrics to other, more meaningful indicators including public awareness, program access and convenience.

Consumers today, with heightened environmental awareness, and manufacturers that drive environmental electronic product design together close the loop in recycling’s circular economy. Electronic products will continue to evolve to be smaller, lighter, more efficiently designed and maybe one day, fully reusable and recyclable.

EPRA B.C. remains committed to being a leader in the stewardship community and providing environmentally sound management of end-of-life electronics so that we can continue to help British Columbians extend nature’s warranty.

To find the collection site closest to you, visit: Return-It.ca/Electronics/Locations or call 1-800-330-9767.

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