Last Tuesday morning, I was running through the falling snow in Riverdale, hurrying to sign off on a shipping manifest for a trailer-full of electronic waste at the Computers for Schools warehouse.
I had two reasons to be in a hurry: First, I did not want to keep the fellow from the trucking company waiting. Second, I just wanted, at long last, to finally get rid of some of that e-waste.
Sometimes, even telling yourself that all things come to those who wait does not make the waiting any easier.
The weather I was running through may have been unseasonably snowy, but the weather at the start of this month, as most of you will fondly remember, had been unseasonably warm—and that warmth had finally thawed the ice off the shipping pallets the e-waste had spent the winter frozen down on.
Even if you are not familiar with the back story, most of you have probably seen something of the problem I was so eager to start getting rid of: the stacked piles of dead electronics—monitors, computer towers, defunct televisions and printers and fax machines—waiting plastic-wrapped in rows in the YTG Education department compound on Lewes Boulevard.
The Computers for Schools program (for which I work as a part-time manager) has a warehouse in that compound, dedicated to taking in old computers, refurbishing them, and distributing them free-of-charge to various educational and not-for-profit organizations in the Yukon.
In the course of doing that, Computers for Schools Yukon made the forgivable but troublesome error of allowing itself to become labelled as the Yukon’s computer and electronics recycling agency—a task it has neither the financial nor human resources to take on, at least on the scale that task has grown to today.
Simply put, we found ourselves, as the Yukon autumn closed in, stuck with piles of dead electronics that had no value to our mission of recycling usable computers; and we were taking some understandable heat from other people in the compound about the unsightly mess in front of our warehouse.
Some urgent negotiations with two YTG departments—Environment and Highways and Public Works—garnered our little shop some $45,000 toward getting rid of this stuff, or at least a good share of it.
That gave us resources to acquire some extra help to sort, stack and package a lot of the mess, and to engage the services of a local trucking company and a electronics recycling company in British Columbia.
By the end of October, we had a sizable share of the e-waste pile set in order, and one truckload sent south.
Then our weather luck ran out.
A sequence of snowfalls, followed by thaws and freezes, meant the pallets were now thoroughly frozen into the ground, and not likely to be movable until the spring came.
That snowy Tuesday morning, though not the ideal candidate for the honour, turned out to be just the spring day I had been waiting for.
Once the paperwork was finished, the trailer left the lot with 21 pallets in it—11 pallets of computer monitors, five of computer towers, and five of general electronic bric-a-brac which the recycling company (Genesis Recycling, out of Aldergrove, BC) charges us for by the pound.
In case you are wondering, each computer monitor costs $8 to recycle, and there are usually 36 of them on a pallet; each computer tower costs $6 to recycle, and there can be anywhere from 50 to 60 of them to a pallet; the miscellaneous e-waste gets billed out at 35 cents a pound, at an average of roughly 1,500 pounds (or $525) per pallet.
A similarly mixed shipment in October cost us $7,800 in recycling fees, with a further $2,700 in shipping, for a total of $10,500.
With the financial support remaining from YTG’s contribution—and allowing for a fair amount of price variation from one truck to the next—that means Computers for Schools Yukon can ship a total of three truckloads this spring.
In fact, by the time you read this, those darling trucks of May should already be down the road.
That’s the good news.
Now comes the bad news.
My best estimate is that the four loads shipped so far represent about half of what is currently in the yard, either stacked on pallets or lying around in the heap that still exists by the warehouse door.
We are going to need more time, more help—and some more patience from our neighbours in the compound—to stack and ship the rest of it all before we get frozen into the ground again.
Still, the e-waste stream, like the Yukon River, has finally had its spring break-up, even if it happened on a snowy, miserable May morning.
Rick Steele is a technology junkie
who lives in Whitehorse.