The B.C. government said a new electronics-recycling program that kicked off Wednesday will safely handle electronics waste, despite concerns raised about possible harmful effects on the environment.

The province's environment minister said people can return old electronics items such as computers, TV sets and monitors to 17 recycling depots across the province for free.


Starting Wednesday, British Columbians have to pay an environmental levy up front when purchasing new electronics. ((CBC))

"With the advent of larger TVs and thin-screen television sets, more and more people are considering replacing those old sets with new sets, which begs the question what to do with those old sets?" Barry Penner said on Tuesday.

As of Aug. 1, an environmental handling fee will be added to the price of new electronics, which ranges from $10 to $45, depending on the product.

The company that runs the e-recycling program said thousands of tonnes of old electronics will soon be diverted from B.C.'s landfills.

Malcolm Harvey, a communications manager with Encorp Pacific Canada, said old electronics leak chemicals such as lead and mercury, which can contaminate landfills.


B.C. Environment Minister Barry Penner said at a media event Tuesday that the new program would handle electronics waste safely. ((CBC))

Discarded electronics are a big problem in the region's landfills, said Ken Carrusca, a senior engineer on policy and planning with the Greater Vancouver Regional District.

"The last study we did, in 2005, indicated about 20,000 metric tonnes of electronic material were being dropped off at our transfer stations, waste energy facility and landfills," Carrusca said.

There's concern that recycling old electronics could release toxic substances into the air, because old products will be melted at smelters, like Tech-Cominco in Trail, B.C.

"It seems to me there's going to be a lot toxic stuff that's going into the atmosphere," said Greg Baker, owner of PC Galore, a company specializing in the recycling of computer-related equipment.

Penner said that won't happen.

"That smelter in Trail has been there for a long time and it's been smelting lead for a long time, so they have state-of-the-art control technology that's already in place," he said.

Baker said current industry practice is that old computers are broken down into their component parts and eventually remanufactured into new computers.