Q: All my tech is dying on me. I need a new computer and DVD player badly, but I hate to throw out my old ones. Do I have to landfill them? Any suggestions on new models?
A: Not to romanticize the past, but back in the day, home appliances and electronics were made to last several years, decades even! Sure, they're cheaper now, but they might as well be disposable at the rate you have to replace them. Canadians dump more than 140,000 tonnes of computer equipment, phones, TVs, stereos and home appliances in landfills each and every year. That's about the weight of 28,000 elephants. Consumer electronics make up 40 per cent of the lead found in landfills (not to mention the nasty endocrine-disrupting fire retardants found in plastic casings and circuit boards), so it's time to think twice about tossing your old gear to the curb.
If you've squeezed the last breath from your small appliances or gadgets or just can't get by without a stronger computer, there are many places you can bring them for recycling. You can discard everything from phones to photocopiers at one of Toronto's Environment Days (see www.city.toronto.on.ca/environment_days). They'll recycle, divert or donate your old stuff (sorry, no TVs or mircrowaves unless they work). Goodwill on Adelaide will take working TVs and computers (Pentium or greater).
ReBOOT Canada is a charity that will fix your old computer or printer, then hand it over to other deserving charities, or recycle it if it's beyond help. ReBOOT's storefront goes by the name Byte Me Computers, on Geary (where the public can buy refurbished gear).
Now for tips on shopping for new tech. One problem with most household electronics is that they're actually still on when you turn them off, wasting tons of electricity in the process. Natural Resources Canada actually blames "leaking electricity" from smaller appliances, combined with the fact that households own more of the damn things, for the 4 per cent increase in residential energy use over the last decade. TVs, VCRs and cable boxes are the worst culprits, but stereo systems are almost as bad.
So when you're browsing for new goods, look for the Energy Star label on everything from DVD players and TVs to computers and major appliances. To earn the label, goods must use a minimal amount of energy when off, so for instance an Energy Star DVD player must consume no more than 3 watts of power - 75 per cent less than conventional models. Note that the label isn't always on the outer packaging, so it's best to ask, but most computers are Energy Star-approved. Future Shop on Yonge says most of its new TVs, DVD players and VCRs come with the label, and Radio Shack on Cumberland offers Energy Star TVs and home theatre systems. Check out Sears in the Eaton Centre for TVs and DVD players.
As for computers, it's really about choosing the lesser evil. Few companies recycle more than 2 per cent of their products, but Hewlitt Packard was ranked number one in a recent computer report card put out by the Computer Takeback Campaign. Deemed the industry's environmental leader, HP is one of the few companies working with consumers and government to take back aging gear and deal with it in an environmentally friendly way. Dell rose to second place after getting a failing grade last year. It's stopped using American prison labour, initiated a recycling program and publicly supports producer takeback policies, unlike most of the computer and television biz, which is vocally against them. Euro-based NEC is also credited with rapidly phasing out toxins and using a high level of recycled content.
Unfortunately, IBM, Toshiba, Philips, Sony and, yes, even Apple, have made little headway according to the Computer Takeback report.
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