Recycling or NIMBY-Cycling?By Mark W. Law (May 24th, 2011)
NIMBY – Not In My BackYard – is that blissful 'state of grace' that allows us to let the world go to hell in a hand-basket, just as long as it doesn't block our view.
I suppose in some ways it is understandable. We all work hard to make a good life for our family, buy a decent home, fix up our lawns and gardens and generally make ourselves presentable. So why not be able to enjoy our little slice of Canadian heaven without having to look at the eyesore of a wind turbine or landfill?
But there is also the game of survival happening, quietly, insidiously, far beyond what we see on the 6 O'clock news.
This past weekend I took a short trip to the Teeswater Dump. As always I had a backseat full of electronic and computer parts for recycling (I don't generate a whole lot of conventional garbage).
Now, Ontario has some great recycling programs. At the Teeswater Dump you can pack your used computer or HDTV away into a semi-trailer that the government hauls away for recycling – for FREE! In other provinces, like BC, you have to pay to have your used computers recycled – when you buy them and when you recycle them! And in some cases you even pay an extra 'reformatting' fee for PC's!
What got to me, though, was that inside the dim trailer at the dump were several pallet sized cardboard shipping crates overflowing with TV's, computers, printers, answering machines and cell phones! WOW! All this from a town of 1000 people in just a couple weeks since my last visit! I honestly didn't know whether to be impressed as heck or really disgusted!
Last year I wrote an article about how recycled computers are still ending up in landfills. A lot of the reasoning behind this related to the price the government pays for recycled computers and the worldwide trade in recyclables generally. Since I wrote that article there has been a new and even more sinister twist added to the story.
It seems that now recycled electronics are being dumped in third world countries where the locals are scavenging the parts for recoverable metal like gold contacts and copper wire. Unfortunately the scavenging methods are crude, involving large hammers and toxic chemicals – with the waste and effluent being dumped into the local water system. You know where this is going.
In one part of West Africa alone hundreds of small children have been affected by lead and mercury poisoning from recycled electronic waste, many dying!
Which brings me back to the pile of discarded TV's and cellphones at the Teeswater Dump. We love the convenience of having our electronic waste hauled away for free by the government but do we really know where it is going or how it is being recycled?
In Canada it is illegal to ship electronic waste to the third world. But it is NOT illegal to ship this waste to the United States, where companies have no prohibitions against shipping your old PC to West Africa or Southeast Asia!
Somehow our high ideals of Recycling have become NIMBY-Cycling! Is there a better way to recover expended electronics without endangering our children? Even with all the computers I have rebuilt and given away over the years I am feeling rather guilty about the 'unuseable' parts I have taken to the big silver trailer at the dump!
As many of you will know, from the evening news, northern Alberta, especially the Slave Lake area has been hit hard this year by forest fires. In Edmonton the local Linux Users Group (LUG) has been hard at work rebuilding and storing PC's so that once the fire cleanup has been completed there will be 'new' computers to replace those destroyed at the local schools and library. LUG's across Canada have been shipping PC's for rebulding to Edmonton. Maybe that is an alternative to dumping our PC's in the local big silver trailer? Certainly there must be people in need of computers all across Canada?
Maybe that is the REAL key to recycling after all – learning to recycle locally first then expanding globally, rather than letting some 'other guy' recycle for us. I sure know that NIMBY-cycling doesn't give me the good feeling that Recycling should.
Just a thought…
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As always if you have used computers and electronics and don't know what to do with them, drop me a note here at Teeswater.Ca and I will gladly help you find them a 'new home' or 'effective' recycling plan. – ed.