Volume 13, Number 13 March 10, 2006

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Environmental concerns spur new computer disposal policy

How old is your computer? The average lifespan of a personal computer has shrunk from four or five years to a mere two years. And what happens to that computer when you no longer need it? Most end up in the landfill.

According to Environment Canada, Canadians discard 140,000 tonnes of computer equipment, phones, televisions, stereos, and small appliances each year—the equivalent weight of 28,000 full-grown African elephants. While not a major part of the residential waste stream, these products contain toxic elements like lead, cadmium, and mercury, which pose risks to human health and the environment.

Annual disposal figures from Environment Canada show personal computers alone account for 4,750 tonnes of lead, 4.5 tonnes of cadmium, and 1.1 tonnes of mercury. A single computer or television display contains an average of four to eight pounds of lead.

These products also contain valuable material such as aluminum, ferrous metals, and copper, which can be recycled. However, due to the shortage of electronic waste recycling facilities in Canada, less than 10 percent is being recovered. The U of S is doing its part to keep a greater share of its electronic waste out of the landfill by working with Advantage Computer Cooperative, a Saskatchewan-based operation that sells affordable refurbished computers to individuals, non profit organizations and small businesses.

Advantage accepts all working and non-working computer hardware but if the equipment cannot be refurbished, it is disassembled into basic components like metal, wire and plastic, and recycled.

- Boulton

For more information, contact communications.office@usask.ca

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