Recycle This
Canadian Home Workshop, Summer 2005

I recently purchased a second hard drive for my computer, and when I got home I quickly realized that securing the drive requires a special harness. I called around but nobody makes parts for it anymore. “You’re better off getting a new one,” I was told again and again. But this is a new one, I thought. It’s only four years old.

Get a new one: welcome to the modern age, where, in many cases, having something repaired costs more than getting a brand new one; where machines older than five years seem as quaint and antiquated as this month’s Mystery Tool. And it’s not only computers—cellphones, power tools, rechargeable batteries, digital cameras and other electronic gadgets come and go, filling our landfills with lead, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, tributyl tin and other difficult-to-spell pollutants. Luckily, there are other options than simply tossing last year’s model.

Recycling aluminum cans and newspapers is easy, but what do you do with an old drill or outdated computer? If Canada followed the European Union’s example, you’d simply return your machine to the manufacturer and leave it to them to safely recycle and dispose of it, according to the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive. WEEE makes the toolmaker responsible for end-of-life products.

We’re not quite there in Canada yet (companies such as HP and IBM will take your old computers, and send you a bill). “Europe is more advanced in recycling because they’ve been worried about land use for a much longer time,” says Dave Betts, president of the Electronics Product Stewardship Program, a not-for-profit policy shaper that works with the provinces as they come forward with regulations that require companies to develop end-of-life stewardship programs. “Nobody wants to fill landfills with their junk. There’s a recognition by companies that taking responsibility for used equipment is the right thing to do—that it must be done—so it’s only a matter of time.”

Fortunately, Canadians have many grassroots-based options to choose from, so before you stash your so-called trash inside a garbage bag, consider the following:

We all use computers for different reasons, and some of us feel the need to constantly upgrade a perfectly good system for the latest and fastest machine; others—most of us—are content with something that works and doesn’t crash constantly. These utilitarian computers are in demand; schools, group homes, shelters and other community groups, as well as those of us who simply refuse to pay top dollar for a new unit, are all looking for your old computer.

One option is Reboot Canada, a non-profit firm that’s provided more than 50,000 computers to 7,000 charities and non-profits across Canada since 1996. Individuals can drop off their computer, have the drive wiped clean, and receive a tax receipt for about 60 per cent of the total value of the machine. There’s a $10 administration fee for your screen. Computer monitors contain mercury, arsenic, cadmium and nickel and it is now illegal to put your monitor out with your trash.

“We have a co-op program to teach students how to tear apart, test and repair systems,” says Richard Roxborough, executive director of Reboot. “Parts that can’t be repaired are sent to certified end-of-line recycling plants, and working computers are sent to the charities that requested them, complete with Microsoft Office.”

Reboot has offices across the country. Go to for a list of locations, or call the head office in Toronto at 416/534-6017.

Another option is Computers for Schools (CFS), a national, federal government-led program similar to Reboot Canada, but instead of working with charities and non-profits, CFS distributes them to schools, public libraries and not-for-profit learning organizations. The program has provided more than 650 000 computers to schools and public libraries and now delivers in excess of 80 000 additional computers each year. Go to to find a local drop-off centre.

You can also look for companies such as Computation in Toronto. Computation will take your old computer, refurbish it, and either donate it to a charitable organization or sell it at a heavily reduced rate (15-inch monitor for $20, for example). “Our goal is to keep the computer from going to the dump,” says Dennis Maslo, who describes himself as “the guy who keeps the wheels moving” at Computation. “We’ve provided computers for students to learn on while taking a computer course, and at the end of the semester they get to keep the machine.” Computation holds monthly free drop-offs. Go to for more information.

Power Tools and household items (TVs, VCRs, etc.):
The key to recycling household­—or shophold—items is to think locally. If you must have the new chuck-less drill that can drive through platinum, consider donating your old drill to your local Salvation Army or Goodwill location. If you live in the GTA, you could donate working tools to programs such as The Mill Centre, which teaches basic woodworking skills to homeless or nearly homeless people. Here you can donate lumber, hand tools and shop machines used for woodworking, general carpentry and metal work.

Websites such as list locations across Canada that you can donate household electronics, including another web-based organization called Freecycle, which is essentially a free online classified of free objects. With more than 1,670,000 members across 3,085 communities, you will certainly find someone who wants your circa 1985 belt sander.

If your equipment is broken, try calling your provincial recycling association. The Recycling Association of British Columbia, for example, has a hotline that allows you to call for free, tell them where you live and what you want to get rid of, and someone will give you a list of options in your area. “We have people calling us from across the province,” says Brock Macdonald. “We know where all the certified recyclers are, where to send something to be refurbished and resold—the focus is on reusing and finding someone who needs what you don’t.”

Rechargeable Batteries:
Most cordless tools and electronic gadgets (cellphones, digital cameras) come with powerful rechargeable batteries, and no matter what types you use (nickel-cadmium, lithium-ion), you will eventually need to replace them. But rather than tossing the old ones in the trash—an environmental no-no—drop them into a Call2Recycle bin. Retailers such as Canadian Tire, Home Depot, Zellers, Sears, Stapes, Future Shop and Home Hardware have in-store bins for you to safely dispose of your used rechargeables.

“Simply walk into the store and hand the batteries a clerk or put them in the bin yourself,” says Linda Gabor, marketing manager for the nonprofit, industry-funded Call2Recycle program, which was founded in 1994 and came to Canada in 1997. “You can also mail them in, but the idea behind the program is to make recycling free and easy for everybody and not a nuisance.”

Filled bins are sent to a factory that recycles all the salvageable materials. “The reclaimed nickel and iron is used to make stainless steel products and cadium is used to make new rechargeable batteries,” says Gabor. “Any money made goes back into funding the program and public education about recycling.”

More than two billion pounds of batteries were collected in the first half of 2005 alone. Go to for drop-off locations in your area, or call 1/877-2-RECYCLE and hear hockey legend Guy Lafleur tell you why recycling makes sense and how to do it.

You can only drop your cellphone so many times before it breaks, especially if you “drop it” so you can get a new one that takes pictures and allows you to surf the Net. In addition to batteries, the Call2Recycle program also accepts cellular phones. “We remove the batteries and then send the phones to an American company called Recellular,” says Gabor. “The phones are tested and, depending on the condition, either refurbished and sold or recycled.” Twenty per cent of revenue made from refurbished and resold phones is given to charities.

If you’d prefer to keep it Canadian, consider PhoneBack Canada. “We mainly receive cellphone donations and PDAs from service and community groups who use the collection as a fundraising activity,” says Gordon Weis of PhoneBack Canada. “It’s a lot easier than selling chocolate bars, and the benefits are much bigger.”

CallBack Canada also works with outreach networks such as senior citizen centres and homes for at-risk women. “Places such as Yellow Brick House will send us requests for phones that can only dial 911, which they give to at-risk women as a safety precaution,” says Weis.

Groups such as Boy Scouts, Girl Guides and the Canadian Diabetes Association, as well as individual schools and community groups, collect cellphones as a way to raise funds. Pitch-In Canada, a national non-profit organization, established in 1967, has a nations cellphone collection program. Organizations currently collecting phones are listed by city. Go to Programs, click the National Cellphone Collection Program, and then click Existing Collection Centres.

PhoneBack accepts phones from individuals (call 905/830-9607 or go to, but you’ll have to pay to mail it in.

-Jay Somerset (