Stories & Features

Recycle it: gift-giving shouldn't be about giving to the landfill

Image of a grandmother and granddaughter using a tablet computer
It's easy to recycle old electronics in B.C., but functioning laptops and other in-demand items can be donated by use by everyone from teenagers to seniors.

As old electronics and small appliances are replaced, look to donate or recycle

BC Hydro research on household electronics a year ago found that more than one in five British Columbians gave a piece of electronics as a gift over the holiday season. And a new BC Hydro survey shows that the COVID-19 pandemic has led to unprecedented electronics use.

That all adds up to a surge in gifted electronics. About 10% of adults planned to buy a gaming console – the new Playstation 5s and Xbox One X have arrived – over the holiday season.

And the older stuff is piling up. As of last year, 33% of us still owned a VCR, nearly half still had a cassette or CD player, and nearly 30% had an old gaming console, such as a SEGA or Nintendo.

Unless you're an electronics collector with plenty of space to allow for that once-in-five-years re-listen of a favourite mixtape on a Walkman, or to play 1992's Sonic the Hedgehog 2 on your vintage SEGA Genesis, you're likely going to get rid of those old items. And when you do, make sure they don't go to the landfill, as e-waste is hazardous, with the potential to leak toxins such as mercury and lead into the environment.

The good news is that B.C. really has its act together on the what and where of electronics recycling through Return-it.ca. And if you're unsure which small appliances or gadgets are recyclable – from blenders to power tools and old clocks – check out electrocycle.ca.

But before you recycle something, first take a shot at donating it. Someone out there might really want (or need) what you're about to throw away.

There may be a place for that old laptop

Many recycling depots first take a close look at the reusability of a piece of electronics before sending them off for recycling, in which recyclable plastics (and even gold) can be salvaged.

At the top of the list of reusables are laptops. A CTV News story found that as of November 2020, Canadians had requested more than 1,100 used desktop computers and more than 4,000 laptops through the Electronic Recycling Association (ERA). And another 1,500 were looking to borrow laptops.

ERA ships usable electronics to a depot in Calgary, where data is wiped, or hard drives are destroyed, before products are refurbished for use.

"A lot of equipment that's current and reusable will be refurbished by us and then reprogrammed and then put into the hands of someone that really needs it," Andrew Weslowski, director of operations for ERA, told CTV News.

South Vancouver Neighbourhood House was looking for printers and laptops, and had a waitlist of 30 teens looking for a gently used laptop.

Other donation options including listing items on Craigslist, Kijiji or Varage Sale for a small amount of money or for free. Other charities that welcome donations for select items (always check their website first) include the Canadian Diabetes Association, which will pick up qualifying and properly packed items. Free Geek Vancouver is a non-profit organization that reuses and recycles donated electronics, offers education and job skills training, and provides free or low-cost computers to the public.

With all recyclables, it really helps to know how to sort

If you've ever looked at communal recycling bins in an apartment building, you'll know how little care many people take in getting the right stuff in the right bin. And that's a pain for recyclers, driving up recycling costs while also funneling a whole lot of stuff to the landfill that shouldn't be there.

To get it right, check out our 2019 story 10 things you really need to know about recycling. It provides guidance on everything from coffee cups and plastics to thermostats, batteries, lights, and light fixtures.