Manitoba

Winnipeg schools stuck with high-tech garbage

Schools across Winnipeg are scrambling to figure out what to do with their old computers after the province's only computer-recycling firm suddenly stopped accepting e-waste last month.

Schools across Winnipeg are scrambling to figure out what to do with their old computers after the province's only computer-recycling firm suddenly stopped accepting high-tech waste last month.

Syrotech, a recycling firm in Winnipeg, stopped accepting discarded computers and electronics in mid-December, saying too much material was coming in and there is no market for old electronic parts.

The surprise closure, along with the lack of a provincial electronics recycling program, has school and university officials worried they will have to assume the added costs of disposing their junked computers safely.

"We weren't given any notice.… It was just a matter of they were no longer accepting it, and we had no time to react," said Maire McDermott, sustainability co-ordinator at the University of Manitoba, on Wednesday.

McDermott said the Winnipeg university will eat the costs of shipping about 30 computersa week to a facility in Alberta.

The cityhas told the university it couldput the waste inits landfill, but McDermott said she didn't think a public agency should be dumping waste laden with toxic elements that way.

A number of Winnipeg school divisions that previously sentwaste electronics to Syrotech are also grappling with how to unload hundreds of computers they don't need anymore.

"We were concerned and a little surprised that this happened so suddenly. And we certainly don't want to be sending computers off to the landfill," said Ron Weston, superintendent of the St. James School Division, on Wednesday.

"And we don't want to create a static landfill in any of our storage areas because we don't have room to store that many machines."

Weston said the issue will be front and centre when school officials from across the city meet later in January.

Provincial officials say they acknowledge it can cost as much as $10,000 to shipone load of junked computersto another province.

Still, Doug Smith, director of Green Manitoba, said it's the only current option, as the province cannot afford to build a depot to collect such waste. Smith pointed out that public agencies such as Manitoba Lotteries are already paying to send theirdiscardedelectronicselsewhere.

"It's the responsibility of the entity doing business to plan and appropriately deal with the waste that they generate," Smith said Wednesday.

"I'm a little surprised to hear that there are some major entities who right now wouldn't know how to deal with large quantities of waste that I presume have accumulated over time."

In 2005, Canadians threw out 67,000 tonnes of obsolete computers, cellphones and printers.

The province of Saskatchewan recently announced it is launching its own electronics recycling program starting Feb. 1. Under the program, consumers there will pay a special levy when they buy new computers or TVs, but they can drop off their unwanted computers, printers, monitors and TVs at any one of the province's 71 recycling depots.

The Manitoba government is in talks with the electronics industry to set up its own environmental levy and recycling program. Smith has said such fees could be in place some time this year.

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