Electronics are changing at a quick pace — you no sooner buy a new gadget and a better, faster and sleeker one is developed. Some consumers find it is less expensive for them to get rid of their old electronics and buy new ones than try to repair what they already have. So how do you dispose of your old electronics?  We now know enough to recycle cans, plastic, paper and kitchen waste — but what about e-waste?

E-waste is electronic waste that includes unwanted electrical equipment and used batteries. E-waste should not be treated as garbage because the items may pose environmental hazards. Electronic equipment contains toxics substances such as mercury, lead, cadmium and arsenic and, if not managed properly, can be harmful to human health and the environment. We also want to keep e-waste out of our already growing landfills.

It is worth noting that parts that make up your electronics — steel, glass, copper, aluminum, plastics and precious metals — can be recovered and made into new products. You might consider donating or selling your electronic item if it is still in working order. Some people may consider buying your device for parts.

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Here’s a list of what can be considered e-waste:

  • Amplifiers
  • Audio and video players and recorders (e.g. DVD and VCR players)
  • Cameras
  • Cell phones
  • Computers and related equipment (e.g. keyboard, mice)
  • Copiers
  • Fax machines
  • Microwaves
  • Monitors
  • Pagers and PDAs
  • Portable media players (e.g. mp3)
  • Printers
  • Radios
  • Receivers
  • Scanners
  • Small appliances
  • Speakers
  • Telephones and answering machines
  • Tuners
  • Turntables
  • Televisions
  • Video projectors

What to do before you discard your e-waste

Protect your privacy: Get rid of all your personal information from computers and cell phones before recycling, selling or donating them. Here are some things to delete from your computer or cell phones:

  • Contact lists (which may include addresses and phone numbers)
  • Email contacts
  • Messages
  • All documents
  • All files in the operating system recycle bin or trash folder
  • Internet files
  • All non-transferable software (most software is transferable if you have the original disks, product key or SIM card)

It is not as simple as just pressing the delete key and empting your deleted items file. Consult the manufacturer’s website or the owner’s manual for information on how to permanently delete your personal information. For example, if you are discarding a cell phone, copy any information you might need from it and reset its memory before you get rid of it.

Be careful when moving heavy monitors or televisions:

In particular, cathode ray tubes, found in older televisions and monitors can shatter under pressure. Sturdy work gloves are a good idea when carrying or moving heavier electronics.

Throwing out your cell phone

When you have finished with your old cell phone or battery, do not throw either of them out. In most cases, vendors of wireless devices can take care of recycling your old appliance when you purchase a new one. If the vendor or retailer is unable to dispose of your old cellphone, your community may have a recycling program to help you dispose of them in a sustainable and responsible manner.

Check with your municipality or visit the Recycle My Cell website, a national program led by the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association. It allows you to find a drop-off location in your area that will accept your device — cell phones, smartphones, wireless devices, batteries and pagers — regardless of brand or condition.

If you can't make it to the drop-off locations, Recycle My Cell will accept your device through the mail, free of charge.

How to keep your e-waste out of landfills

Just like garbage pickup, different jurisdictions have different e-waste programs and different procedures for getting rid of equipment. You can bring your used electronics to a variety of municipal, not-for-profit, retail and other depots or special collection events. The items will either be reused or recycled in an environmentally responsible way.

To find out if there are certified e-waste programs where you live and to obtain more information about these programs, including a detailed list of electronic materials that can and cannot be sent to recycling centres, contact your municipality, your provincial or territorial consumer affairs office or the organizations listed in the “contacts for this topic” tab at the top of this page. For a list of provincial and territorial e-waste programs, please visit the Recycle My Electronics web page.

Certified e-waste programs typically work in the following manner:

  • All companies that sell certain types of electronics (either at their store or online) need to be certified by the province or territory. 
  • The certified company who sells the equipment pays an environmental fee for each piece of equipment sold.
  • Companies normally then charge this fee to their customers by adding it to the sales price of the items they sell.
  • Having paid for the environmental fees at the time of purchase, consumers and businesses can then drop off unwanted electronic equipment, including computers and televisions, without charge at designated e-waste drop-off centres.
  • The collected equipment is then shipped to certified recyclers to be recycled in an environmentally sound manner.

If there are no e-waste certification programs where you live, don’t throw out your used electronic equipment in the garbage. Your community may have a recycling program to help you dispose of your e-waste in a sustainable and responsible manner. Check with your municipality for more information. From time to time large electronics stores offer a “take-back” day at local stores. Watch for information on local programs in your area.

Consumer tip:

Beware of firms that misrepresent themselves as certified and charge you non-legitimate environmental fees when you buy your electronics. In provinces with e-waste programs, only those companies who are certified pay environmental fees to help support take-back programs and it is only these companies that can sell you specific electronic equipment.  Check with your provincial consumer affairs office to obtain the information.

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Published by the Consumer Measures Committee, a working
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