The mounting debris of the information age is slowly burying Computers for Schools Yukon.
Stashed behind the Child Development Centre on Lewes Boulevard, just outside the small, green Computers for Schools warehouse, lie tons of “e-waste” — discarded computers and electronic equipment.
“Computers for Schools isn’t really about e-waste management. It’s about refurbishing computers and getting them out to people,” said Rick Steele, executive director of the Yukon Entrepreneurship Centre, which administers the program.
Back when discarded electronic equipment came in only at a trickle, defunct computers were simply packaged and shipped south for recycling.
But running on a “shoestring budget,” Computers for Schools simply can’t afford to ship the increasing flood of used equipment outside the territory, said Steele.
Near the entrance to the parking lot at the Child Development Centre, e-waste is neatly stacked and wrapped onto pallets. Farther down it is simply thrown haphazardly into a heap.
Asking directions for Computers for Schools at the Child Development Centre is not recommended.
“They’re located in a shed in the back, but they are NOT affiliated with the Department of Education,” said a particularly abrupt CDC employee.
The pile of e-waste is obviously becoming a point of contention among parking-lot users.
A light rain fell, bouncing off tape players, Apple iMacs, fax machines and CRT computer monitors. From deep within the heap of computers came a high-pitched buzzing; the final screams of an aging fragment of electronica.
The pile-up has come quickly.
“There’s a lot more computers to be disposed of than there was in the past,” said Steele.
As the public moves from desktops to laptops, CRT monitors to flatscreen monitors and CD players to MP3 players, tons of obsolete equipment is inevitably left behind.
“In the old days when computers were more expensive, they kind of recycled themselves. People would buy new components and keep them running longer,” said Steele.
“Now they’re essentially like Bic lighters,” he said.
And Computers for Schools can’t just throw them away.
If disposed of conventionally at landfills, e-waste can pose a definite environmental threat. Older computers and monitors, especially, can contain hazardous quantities of lead, cadmium and mercury.
In place since 1993, Computers for Schools is a government-led program that collects old electronic equipment, repairs and refurbishes it, and then distributes it to “schools, libraries and not-for-profit learning organizations throughout Canada.”
The Yukon component distributes about 400 computers annually throughout the territory.
Steele is currently consulting with his board of directors in order to determine how to properly address the issue of the e-waste.
More funding is definitely required, but Steele said that he is not a fan of “government dole-outs.”
Possible alternative solutions may include a cutback on collections of electronic waste, or the imposition of a “recycling fee.”
Whatever the outcome, Steele said he hopes that the e-waste issue will find resolution — either through his organization or from outside.
“There’s a real social value to have some entity out there that’s dealing with the Yukon’s electronic waste,” he said.
“It’s not glamorous, but it’s needed.”