Dayle Laing

The ‘coolest shade of green’ is the sustainable choice. Dayle Laing is a Professional Speaker and Author who uses her experience and training as an educator, a designer and a LEED Accredited Professional to empower Conscious Consumers to make practical yet beautiful choices for sustainable living, reducing their carbon footprint while enhancing their body, mind & spirit.

Congratulations, you’ve just purchased a new phone, flat screen TV or computer that replaces one that is ailing, slow or lacks the latest features. What happens now with the old equipment? Unfortunately, all too often it ends up in the local landfill instead of contributing to sustainable design.

david_laing_sims_250I’m David Laing, LEED AP, the Environmental Consultant partner of Dayle Laing. Each year an estimated 50 million tons of e-waste (computers, TVs, cell phones and other discarded electronic items) are produced. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, over 80% of that material ends up in municipal garbage dumps. It is a huge problem because computers and monitors contain some very nasty substances including: lead, cadmium, beryllium, mercury, and brominated flame retardants. Up to 60 elements can be found in complex electronics, and it has been estimated that 70% of the heavy metals in US landfills comes from discarded electronics. Surely there must be a more economically and environmentally friendly solution for disposing of e-waste; and there is. All we need do is take advantage of it.

dayle_laing_sims_200Recently, Dayle and I had the privilege of participating in a tour of 2 electronic recycling plants in Brampton & Mississauga, Ontario organized by Brad Zarnett of the Toronto Sustainability Speakers Series. The plants, operated by SIMS Recycling Solutions cover 85,000 and 290,000 square feet respectively and currently process 30 million pounds of electronic waste annually. SIMS Metal Management, the parent company is the largest electronics recycler in the world and these two local facilities handle recycling from Canada and the Northeast US. Half the recycled material comes from commercial equipment while the other half comes from consumer products.

I worked in the computer industry for many years and have had the opportunity to tour computer manufacturing plants. I have been impressed by the high technology automation, ingenuity and complexity that is employed to manufacture computer components. I can tell you from visiting the SIMS plant that it also takes a lot of high technology to pull those components apart; along with a bit of finesse and a fair amount of brute force.

 

The SIMS plants use a combination of

sims_ewaste_glass_250manual labour along with in-house designed, state of the art automated technologies to dismantle, shred and separate the electronics into its various components. Plastics pulled off here, non-leaded glass diverted over there, metals, silicon, rare earth minerals - everything, including the copper wire and its plastic insulation is separated into up to 30 different material streams. 99% of the original weight is recaptured in a form that is then sold to downstream recyclers providing raw material for the next generation of electronics equipment.

The plants are each ISO 14001 certified for the highest environmental standards of both safety and security. Dust in the plant contains heavy metals and is therefore filtered through one of 12 ‘bag houses’ that remove all particulate matter before the air is released back into the plant. Every person in the plant, including visitors are required to wash their hands to prevent the escape of particulate matter outside the plant. The danger of fire exists in the shredders, so a dozen remote controlled cameras are used to monitor various points for spark, flame and jams.

SIMS recycles computer equipment that may contain highly sensitive information. Organizations want proof that their equipment and its data have been destroyed securely. Bar-code scanners and cameras track each skid of material from plant entry to shredder exit, in bite sized pieces.

Who says the economy and the environment are mutually exclusive? SIMS has created 30 new green jobs in an area of the country that has seen manufacturing employment dry up over the past 2 years. There is capacity to create 200 new green jobs. 15% of these jobs are considered to be highly skilled.

sims_recycling_solutions_logoThe SIMS facility is designed to operate 3 shifts per day, 7 days a week. Yet today the plant only has enough electronic material to support one shift.  Herein lies the travesty.  A state of the art facility with the capability to safely recycle vast quantities of e-waste sits with 2/3rds excess capacity while electronic waste continues to pile up in landfills. Economics, politics and human nature contribute to this situation.

Unlike paper, glass and can recycling programs that have the potential to generate positive cash flows for municipalities, the revenue from raw materials recovered from recycled electronics covers only about 15% of actual recycling cost. Understandably tax payers balk at picking up the other 85% so publicly funded e-waste recycling programs are rare.

Some manufacturers offer to recycle out-dated products as a trade-up incentive for a small fee. But these programs are far from universal and, faced with the prospect of paying someone to take garbage when it can be put out to the street for ‘free’, guess where human nature drives the majority of consumer decisions? You guessed it; the landfill wins.

McDonough & Braungart in their book “Cradle to Cradle” said that we should “design with the end in mind”. When corporations are faced with a market-driven challenge, they find a way to create the technology, expertise, money and resources necessary to meet that challenge. But it takes Government vision (and legislation) to balance those market forces and support long term global environmental interests along with shorter-term shareholder returns.

cindy_coutts_sims_250
Cindy Coutts SIMS

Forward thinking jurisdictions like Ontario enacted legislation that encourages industry stewardship programs by requiring electronics manufacturers and importers to pay for the cost of disposing of the products they sell after the end of their useful life. Even if we cannot calculate an exact landfill cost, there is both a monetary and health cost if e-waste is not recycled. According to Cindy Coutts, the president of SIMS Recycling Solutions, “it is this regulatory backdrop that facilitates this facility (SIMS plant)”. She added, "if it is banned from landfill, then it has to go somewhere else." What better place than a facility that takes its responsibility so seriously that Cindy personally visits the downstream recyclers to see if their standards are good enough for SIMS to ship to them!

 

Of course fees paid by the suppliers are ultimately recouped from the consumer in the form of higher retail prices. These ‘Eco-fees’ typically amount to less than 2% of the retail selling price, yet most suppliers and retailers choose to show them separately at time of check out.  As a result consumers see these fees more as a tax than as a cost which responsible suppliers should bear as part of their products’ ‘total life-cycle’. So it is not surprising that only the most courageous and best organized jurisdictions have made headway in this area.

You can do your part by supporting governments who encourage the implementation of these electronic stewardship programs and by helping explain the beneficial purpose that these eco-fees perform in keeping our environment healthy.  And, when disposing of that old PC or phone, make the choice to have it recycled rather than dumped.

By David Laing, B.A.Sc., LEED Accredited Professional

Please contact the office to discuss your needs for an informative, motivational presentation or consultation. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 905-846-3221

Comments (11)

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Great article!<br />As a Chicago area resident is there a any kind of similar facility near me? Is it worth while to package my outdated electronics & send them to the & ship them to SIMS?<br />Deb Battersby<br /><br />Deb,<br />Thanks for the...

Great article!<br />As a Chicago area resident is there a any kind of similar facility near me? Is it worth while to package my outdated electronics & send them to the & ship them to SIMS?<br />Deb Battersby<br /><br />Deb,<br />Thanks for the comment and question. See Scott's answer below, as SIMS has a facility in Chicago and recycling locally is of course, preferable.<br /><br />Kindest regards,<br />Dayle

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Great!<br /><br />Cheryl,<br />Awareness is a first step in this process, isn't it?<br /><br />Thanks,<br />Dayle

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As a nation, we always seem to be putting the cart before the horse. With all of our technological advances and creative ideas, it still amazes me that a reusable / recyclable package is not created BEFORE a product goes to market. We live in a...

As a nation, we always seem to be putting the cart before the horse. With all of our technological advances and creative ideas, it still amazes me that a reusable / recyclable package is not created BEFORE a product goes to market. We live in a consumable society. I would like to see that flip to a REDUCE, REUSE and RECYCLE model. <br /> Thank goodness there are companies like SIMS, who answer the needs of a huge portion of our consumer waste.<br /><br />Susan,<br />You make an excellent point about designing the packaging first, and this does play into the Cradle to Cradle "design with the end in mind". Can you imagine a world that made this a priority and had the political will to support this? We have an opportunity for a very thriving green economy.<br /><br />Best regards,<br />Dayle

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Great article! Thank you for sharing your experience.<br /><br />Please be sure to let Deb know that we have a plant in West Chicago. It can be found by visiting our website http://www.us.simsrecycling.com<;br /><br />Many thanks,<br /><br...

Great article! Thank you for sharing your experience.<br /><br />Please be sure to let Deb know that we have a plant in West Chicago. It can be found by visiting our website http://www.us.simsrecycling.com<;br /><br />Many thanks,<br /><br />Scott Hurren<br />Commercial Manager<br />Sims Recycling Solutions Canada<br /><br />Scott,<br />Thanks for this tip for Deb. It is helpful that you have facilities around the world. As you can see, there is much interest in the work your company does.<br /><br />Sincerely,<br />Dayle

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Thanks for the information. It was well-written, and I'm glad you emphasized the need to have manufacturers focus upon design for disassembly; the back-end efforts are great, but we need to "redefine design". If design for disassembly was a...

Thanks for the information. It was well-written, and I'm glad you emphasized the need to have manufacturers focus upon design for disassembly; the back-end efforts are great, but we need to "redefine design". If design for disassembly was a prerequisite for new product design, I hazard that the 15:85 saleable value ratio from electronic waste would skew in a favourable way. When I was in the UK, it was neat to see efforts under the EU's Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive, which is also beginning to drive manufacturer product take-back at the end of useful life. In the case of the latter, I understand that Germany is a leader in this regard. At home, I'm glad to see the recent efforts under Ontario Electronic Stewardship.<br /><br />http://ec.europa.eu/environment/waste/weee/index_en.htm<;br /><br />Cheers,<br />Philippe<br /><br />Philippe,<br />Thanks for the feedback. Your UK experience is encouraging.<br /><br />Kindest regards,<br />Dayle

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I learnt a lot from Dave's report. We probably have the same problems, although attempts are continually made both by Government and local authorities for recycling.<br /> <br />You may be interested to learn that Rotary Clubs collect old...

I learnt a lot from Dave's report. We probably have the same problems, although attempts are continually made both by Government and local authorities for recycling.<br /> <br />You may be interested to learn that Rotary Clubs collect old computors to send to 'undeveloped countries' and other organisations collect and pay for old mobile telephones. We also have a law compelling old televisions, washing mahines, refrigerators etc. to be taken to special disposal centres. Nevertheless, I am sure more could be done and will be over the years as people, especially children, are being taught the importance of correct waste disposal.<br /> <br />I was certainly interested to read the report; keep the good work up.<br /><br />Roy,<br />Thanks for the UK perspective. These valuable raw materials can be both a benefit to charities for recycling fund raising and to 3rd world countries for reusing. Your comment about educating the youth is very important.<br /><br />All the best,<br />Dayle

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Hi Dayle,<br /><br />Here's my dilemma: my husband replaced the 46" TV that's not LED and is no longer working. The Community Days will not accept a TV that large. Do you know where I can take it so it doesn't end up in landfill? It's been...

Hi Dayle,<br /><br />Here's my dilemma: my husband replaced the 46" TV that's not LED and is no longer working. The Community Days will not accept a TV that large. Do you know where I can take it so it doesn't end up in landfill? It's been sitting in the den with a blanket on it for 5 months and we need the space back.<br /><br />Cheers,<br />Tobi

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Hi Tobi,<br /><br />According to the City of Toronto’s web-site, if you live in a single family residence, you should be able to get curb-side collection of your TV if it is placed beside the Garbage Bin. A different style of truck from the...

Hi Tobi,<br /><br />According to the City of Toronto’s web-site, if you live in a single family residence, you should be able to get curb-side collection of your TV if it is placed beside the Garbage Bin. A different style of truck from the regular garbage truck will pick up all electronics for either recycling or safe disposal. I do not see any size restrictions on e-waste so even a 46” TV should be good to recycle. If you live in a multi-unit building, you can place the TV at a collection spot designated by the property manager for collection of bulky items. <br /><br />If for some reason the curb-side collection doesn’t work, then you can take the TV to one of 7 drop-off locations spread throughout the city. Visit the following link for drop-off locations and hours of operation: http://www.toronto.ca/garbage/depots.htm. <br />Best regards,<br />Dayle

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Thanks for the info. I'll let my husband know it can be recycled.<br /><br />Cheers,<br />Tobi

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A very intersting article Dayle. Now I know where to take all our old, out of date computers!<br /> <br />Thanks,<br />Lynda

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