Early one morning, a couple of weeks ago, I was at the tail end of my constitutional around the Millennium Trail when my cellphone rang.
It was Phil from Raven Recycling with some interesting but problematic news.
“Rick,” he said, “I have a trucker here looking for some back-haul, and he’s ready to give us a good rate down to Vancouver. How about we send him over to Computers for Schools tomorrow morning and load up some of the e-waste pallets you have sitting there?”
A couple of months ago, that would have been great news, and I would have jumped at the opportunity; but this time I had to stop to do some thinking.
I had to explain that, though there might be a small amount of money left over from the agreement Computers for Schools had made with the Yukon government to ship out some of its large accumulation of electronic waste for recycling, the term of that agreement had now come to and end, so no new expenses could be made against it.
Also, because I was still waiting for the agreement with Industry Canada (which funds Computers for Schools) to come through, I was down to just one guy at the warehouse, and we would need at least two to do the loading.
Phil told me he would call me back in a few minutes, and, within 15 minutes or so, was back on my cell, telling me Raven was ready to take on the shipping and recycling charges itself, in anticipation of a forthcoming contribution agreement with the government. Furthermore, Phil himself would come down and help with the loading.
With that kind of free labour and enterprising spirit at my disposal, it was hard to say no, especially since I still had at least one truck-load of dead computer equipment piled up on wooden pallets, and probably another two loads waiting to be sorted and palletized.
So I worked out the arrangement with Raven and alerted my warehouse worker to be ready to load a truck the next morning.
By the end of the afternoon of the next day, another load of defunct computers and CRT monitors was on its way down the highway to a recycling centre in Aldergrove, BC.
I mention this particular operation because it marked a change, and a definite advance, in how the e-waste problem is being handled in the Yukon.
As some of you will recall from previous columns in this space, I oversee the Computers for Schools program for the local Yukon Entrepreneurship Centre Society.
That program, which is about taking in donated computers, refurbishing them, and giving them out to educational and non-profit organizations, has been operating in the Yukon for more than a decade, now; but over the past year (beginning, unfortunately, just before I took over the management), it was overwhelmed with computers that were not working machines but just dead electronic junk.
Through the good graces of YTG’s Environment and Highways and Public Works departments, we managed to get some funds together to get rid of about half of that waste by the end of last May.
Over the course of that time, we participated in a number of planning meetings with the major players in the e-waste problem—the Yukon government, Raven Recycling, the city of Whitehorse—and are evolving a two-stage strategy for dealing with it—first, a plan to deal with the immediate backlog of waste; second, a longer-term plan to keep that accumulation from happening again.
While the exact shape of that plan is still solidifying, and some agreements dealing with phase one are still pending, I am pleased to say that Computers for Schools is becoming something of a bit-player in this enterprise, as the people who have the funds, skills and contacts to handle it begin to take over.
It means that Computers for Schools can start getting back to fulfilling its basic purpose: Getting refurbished computers onto the desktops of organizations which need them.
That refurbishment/re-use of computers will be its contribution to reducing the volume of electronic waste we generate.
Other organizations will take over the business of handling the electronics that have come to the very end of their usability.
So Computers for Schools can get back in the business of taking in computers, again—but with a difference: We are looking for computers that still have some serviceable life in them.
That generally means a computer with a Pentium 4 processor, a 40 GB hard drive, and at least 256 MB of RAM.
We are not equipped to refurbish Apple computers—and have nor real market for them, anyway—so we don’t take in Macs.
Most of our donors are governments—most notably YTG, along with Yukon College and Industry Canada—but we do take donations from the general public, if the machines being offered can be re-used, either as they are, or for parts.
If you are considering donating a computer or computers to us, it is probably better to call first to tell us what you have and arrange a drop off time.
You can reach our warehouse between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. at 456-4365, or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We also have voice mail after hours.
Computers for Schools is back in business—but its real business, computer refurbishment, not the e-waste management business.
For further news on who is taking over that business and when, watch this space.
Rick Steele is a technology junkie
who lives in Whitehorse.