Alberta could soon be home to two firms that recycle e-waste, including electronic waste from computers, telecommunications equipment and VCRs.
Calgary-based Maxus Technology has opened Western Canada’s first electronic waste recycling facility in Rimbey, just northwest of Red Deer.
When fully operational, it will employ 120 people.
GEKO, a German company that also specializes in recycling electronic waste, is expected to start construction in 2003 on a $20-million facility at Edmonton’s Clover Bar dump.
But Maxus has complained that GEKO is receiving unfair incentives from the City of Edmonton. Company officials are asking why Mayor Bill Smith would go out of country to find an e-waste recycler when a home-grown business exists almost on his doorstep.
|Maxus Technology photo|
|Maxus Technology president Shelley Whatmore opens new Rimbey facility as Environment Minister Lorne Taylor looks on.|
GEKO is part of the Project Germany initiative, an investment pilot project designed to attract up to 15 manufacturing firms from Germany, Austria and Switzerland to the Alberta Capital Region.
GEKO will lease its land from the city for a nominal fee, Smith said in making the announcement. The city will share in the company’s profits, but GEKO would be liable for any losses.
Clayton Miller, communications co-ordinator for Maxus, says his company asked to meet with Smith but “were told he didn’t feel he needed to meet with us.”
Smith could not be reached for comment.
Miller was reluctant to divulge how much the Rimbey facility cost other than to say it was a lot less than $20 million. Maxus took over a former unused provincial parks and recreation building in Rimbey.
He added the company paid “fair market value” for the building, with the overall cost more than $1 million.
The grand opening last week was attended by company officials, Environment Minister Lorne Taylor and Halvar Jonson, minister of intergovernmental relations.
Maxus started operations in 1994 as an assets recovery firm, helping companies recover what they could from old equipment.
“Obviously, there is equipment that has reached the end of its natural life. It can’t be reused, it can’t be resold,” says Miller.
“We were processing a lot of that stuff, but not recycling it. When we did some research, we found that it was going to export, to China in most cases and other developing countries where it was polluting the environment and polluting the people. We decided we couldn’t do that so we decided to set up the recycling facility.”
The company collects electronic equipment from businesses throughout the province. “Anything with a
circuit chip,” says Miller.
It will also accept items from individuals, but those must be delivered either to its Calgary office or to Rimbey.
Computers that still have some life in them are refurbished and resold. Those that are no longer salvageable are taken apart and their individual components recycled.
Glass from computer monitors is separated into “clean” glass – the outer coat – and “dirty glass” – the inner coat which contains lead. The dirty glass is re-used for new computer screens but with the switch from cathode ray tubes to flat display panels, that avenue for recycling dirty glass is disappearing. Maxus is working on ways to encapsulate the lead and re-use the glass in other products.
The company is also developing a wood-like material from the plastic in electronic equipment that could be used to build picnic tables and benches.
The problem of electronic waste disposal is growing
rapidly across North America.
“In the next five years, there’s going to be 500 million computers thrown out in North America,” notes Miller, adding a potential 1.5 million pounds of lead is heading for landfill sites.
Maxus supports the idea of a recycling fee being added to the cost of a computer at the point of purchase, much like a recycling fee added to the price of new tires.
“We believe it’s going to cease to be an option,” says Miller. “When the public becomes aware of the hazards these things cost, they’re usually willing to pay a bit more on the front end in order to ensure it doesn’t pollute the environment on the back end.”
Miller says legislation is needed barring the dumping of old computers in landfills.
Maxus charges companies for picking up electronic waste. It shares, according to pre-determined terms, the proceeds from the sales of refurbished computers or the profits from recycled materials.
There’s no charge, except for a $10 fee for computer monitors or $15 per television, for individuals who drop off their electronic equipment for recycling.