Bogged down in toxic waste, I head out to see if retailers will take back the junk they sold me
I don’t know exactly how all this garbage piled up at my house, but I do know I’m tripping over it.
There’s a computer I thought I’d get around to fixing but never will, a little TV that used to work and that Teflon pan I stopped using because the word “cancer” is scary. I’ve got equal fears about the defective fluorescent bulb in my washroom and the Nalgene bottle that will fill me with estrogen.
Then there are my CDs. At some point between the 90s and now they lost all meaning, and today they’re more of a bedroom slipping hazard than a precious commodity. (Yes, even ABBA Gold.) They need to go, too, but who will make sure this junk doesn’t end up poisoning a river here or in a foreign village?
It’s time to see if the retailers that sold all this nasty stuff are ready to dispose of it in a responsible way.
WHY I CAN’T TOSS IT: The glass funnel alone is 25 per cent lead. Mix in some cadmium, mercury, barium, brominated flame retardants, wrap with PVC and you have another reason to worry about how TV is killing the youth of today.
RETAILER: Future Shop. On my way somewhere else, I take the little guy to a Mississauga outlet. The manager, agrees to take it because it’s small. I’m assured it’s going to their depot for a proper burial. I ask if I can come back later with my mom’s old 21-inch TV but get shot down.
OFFICIAL LINE: Company says they don’t have a program for larger items, but do take back batteries, MP3 players, phones and CD players.
Compact fluorescent light bulb
WHY I CAN’T TOSS IT: The mercury – not nearly as much as those old light-up L.A. Gears, but at 3-to-5 mg each, it’s nothing to feel good about.
RETAILER: A clerk at the Home Hardware on Ossington won’t take it. I walk to the Canadian Tire near Dundas Square. The concerned clerk there says she’s been given no instructions. The bulb is back home in a Ziploc bag.
OFFICIAL LINE: Canadian Tire and Home Hardware do take rechargable batteries and cellphones, but no word on those mercury-ladden lights.
WHY I CAN’T TOSS THEM: These are mainly polycarbonate plastic with an aluminum layer. Depending on the disc (like whether I bought the cheapest ones for burning), I could be dealing with cyanide dyes. There could also be gold or silver.
RETAILERS: You should always offer your CDs to second-hand stores, but the ones I have are too far gone. Alas, the HMV at 333 Yonge doesn’t want the stuff. I’m surprised that the Best Buy nearby has a special bin to toss CDs and DVDs into. No, it isn’t a trash bin – at least I hope not.
OFFICIAL LINE: HMV never returned calls, but Best Buy has a national take-back program in place for these.
Non-stick frying pan
WHY I CAN’T TOSS IT: I may have fried up some mean omelettes in this baby, but it’s still a big chunk of aluminum covered in a synthetic fluoropolymer. Dupont calls it Teflon. I call it bad. If you burn a pan, it decomposes, then birds die and people get sick.
RETAILERS: I bought it at the College Winners, so they can have it back. The clerk is reluctant. She says they usually send used things to a women’s shelter; she eyes my aged cooker and agrees to send it on. I feel pretty guilty about this.
OFFICIAL LINE: Winners could not be reached for comment.
WHY I CAN’T TOSS IT: Age and exposure to acids, bases and extreme temperatures break some chemical bond, with the result that I’m now drinking synthetic estrogen (BPA). Awesome.
RETAILERS: The salesperson at Coast Mountain Sports won’t take it. He tells me the evidence is “controversial.’’ Mountain Equipment Co-op, however, does take it.
OFFICIAL LINE: MEC doesn’t have a concrete plan yet, but I’m told they’re picking a recycler. For now they’re making them into art.
WHY I CAN’T TOSS IT: This 500MHz grey box that I've been using as a side table has to go. Which of these would you like in your water: PVCs, brominated flame retardants, chromium, mercury, beryllium or cadmium?
RETAILERS: Best Buy’s customer service person tells me to take the machine to the front bin – the one I threw my CDs into earlier. I ditch the computer. A sign on the bin says “No computers.” Hmm.
OFFICIAL LINE: Reps say the costumer service clerk was confused. Large electronics are only accepted for recycling a couple weeks a year. But Best Buy will take all the same small items as Future Shop.
Best bets for retailer recycling
BATTERIES AND CELLPHONES:
• Most hardware, cellphone and office supply stores take back cells and rechargable batteries.
• Grassroots on Bloor and Danforth takes non-rechargable batteries, too.
• Many computer makers like Dell and HP have take-back programs, so ask.
• ReBoot.ca refurbishes old computers and gives them to schools, charities.
• Inorganicmarket.ca hosts community recycling events for electronics like iPods, cells, computers, stereos, etc.
Home Depot promises to have a national take-back program in place for CFLs some time this year.
City hazardous waste depots are few and far between. Check www.toronto.ca/garbage/depots.htm for locations and a list of what they accept, or phone 416-392-4330. Or wait for the one day in summer when the city comes to your ’hood (www.toronto.ca/environment_day).