Expanded electronic recycling pilot a 'big help' to some N.W.T. communities

The territorial government has expanded its electronics recycling program in 11 N.W.T. communities. Residents can now recycle more than 500 electronic items.

Cell phones, power tools, DJ mixers, vacuums on expanded list of recyclable goods

A pile of electronic waste at the dump in Yellowknife on Sept. 2, 2021. Personal fans, like the one seen here, are on the list of electronic goods that'll be recyclable in 11 N.W.T. communities as part of the expanded pilot project. (Liny Lamberink/CBC)

At least three communities in the N.W.T. are welcoming a pilot project that will allow residents to recycle a wider variety of electronics, saying it'll reduce risks to the environment and save precious space at their landfills.

Glenn Smith, the senior administrative officer for the Town of Hay River, said he's glad his community is one of 11 included in the territory's recently announced program, because the municipality's dump is coming up to the end of its life. 

"We're probably at over 90 per cent capacity right now," he said. "Anything that is diverted from going into our facility extends the life of the landfill and the cost of managing it for the municipality." 

The territorial government announced last week it was launching an expanded electronics recycling pilot program in Yellowknife, Ndilǫ, Dettah, Hay River, Kátł'odeeche First Nation, Enterprise, Kakisa, Inuvik, Fort Smith, Fort Providence and Norman Wells.

Residents in those communities will be able to bring more than 500 electronic and electric products to their local recycling depots for the next two years.

Items on the expanded list fall into seven categories: small appliances and lighting; audio visual equipment; telecom devices; power and air tools; games, toys and music; lawn and garden equipment; and solar panels. 

A raven flies over garbage at the dump in Norman Wells, N.W.T., in October 2018. The town's mayor, Frank Pope, said being able to divert more electronic waste from the landfill in his community will be a 'big help' in remediating the dump and saving space within it. (Katie Toth/CBC)

The pilot project builds on the existing electronics recycling program, which remains in place for the rest of the territory. It allows for the recycling of TVs and monitors, computers and servers, laptops, tablets and notebook computers, printers, copiers, scanners and fax machines — which all have environmental fees baked into their purchase price to cover the cost of that recycling.

Since it was launched in 2016, the existing program has collected 350 tonnes of electronics, the territorial government said in a Thursday media release.

A 'big help' for dump remediation efforts

Joseph Gormaly, the environmental program manager at Kátł'odeeche First Nation, said the program is a "step in the right direction." 

It will reduce the risk of toxic contaminants leaching into the ground at Hay River's landfill site, which is of particular concern, he said, because of the landfill's close proximity to the river. It also means that precious metals inside some electronics can be repurposed in new products, he said. 

"It saves us from having to take more resources out of the ground [through] resource intensive mining … you save some carbon from entering the atmosphere." 

Frank Pope, the mayor of Norman Wells, said the pilot program will be a "big help" as the town works to remediate a dump that was once almost at capacity. 

Frank Pope, the mayor of Norman Wells, said diverting electronics from landfill will make the site a 'safer place to go.' (Radio Canada)

"We're finding it's more worthwhile to fix what we've got, to try and get a lot of the steel and vehicle bodies and all that out of town" than it is to create a new landfill site, he said. 

Diverting electronics will make the site a "safer place to go" and will also lead to "an awful lot ... less material" brought to the site in the first place, he said. 

Pilot paving way for full expanded recycling program

Diep Duong, the director of environment protection and waste management for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, said in an August interview that electronics can contain heavy metals, like lead and mercury, which leach into the soil and water. 

A full expanded electronics recycling program, she said, could divert 133 tonnes of electronics and electrical appliances from ending up in landfills around the N.W.T. every year. That's the equivalent of 10 53-foot trailers' worth of material. 

The territorial government said it would use the pilot to iron out the logistics of the program, to assess the quantity of materials being brought in and to better understand how much it'll cost to handle, transport and recycle the new materials. 

"This information will be important to help design a self-sustaining program to best manage this expanded suite of products," the statement to media said.

Electronics recycling is one of the territory's three focus areas, when it comes to waste management. In August, the government said it would also be working on a diversion plan for car tires and used oil because of the risks they pose to the environment. 

The territory has set itself a goal, in its waste management strategy, of implementing three to five new waste management programs by 2029.


Liny Lamberink


Liny Lamberink is a reporter for CBC North. She moved to Yellowknife in March 2021, after working as a reporter and newscaster in Ontario for five years. She can be reached at