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  • E-Waste Management at Dalhousie University:

    Final Research Report

    April 11th, 2014 Prof. Hendricus Van Wilgenburg T.A. Jessica Ellis The Campus as a Living Lab ENVS/SUST 3502 Dalhousie University

    Leah Morris - B00580356 - International Development Esteban Villasis - B00561125 - Business Management Tyler Pearson - B00585046 - Biology Kelsey Brasil - B00573146 - Community Design Obelem Erekosima - B00551004 - Environmental Science, Sociology & Social Anthropology

  • Executive Summary: The following report critically analyzes the current electronic waste (e-waste) disposal program at Dalhousie University. This topic is timely, with 20 to 25 million tons of e-waste being disposed annually worldwide; releasing toxic chemicals into the air and water (Robinson, 2009). This project uses exploratory research to critically assess the capabilities of Dalhousie’s current system, asking How This inductive process takes place in two steps: a pre-evaluation and an evaluation. The pre-evaluation assesses the management and facilitation of the program at Dal- housie through a series of interviews, with those currently involved in the operation of the pro- ject. The evaluation is a more extensive process, compiling data from faculty as the participants in the program. The results have shown three main problematic areas: education, funding, and overall efficiency. These themes were re-occurring amongst participants involved in both opera- tions and utilization of the system. Further, the research hopes to make recommendations for the program tackling these three issue. Differing from previous student analyses, the project’s participants are those directly involved in managing and using the program: faculty and facilities management. Conclusions will be drawn on the extent to which this program can function on campus. With these results, potential improvements are suggested to ameliorate the access to on campus drop off sites and to provide a system available not only to faculty, but extending to students in the area and even- tually expanding to the general public.

  • 1.1: Objectives 6 2.1: Reliability and Variability 6 2.2: Limitations 6 3.1: Pre-evaluation - Interviews 7 3.2: Evaluation - Survey Results 9

  • 1: Introduction Purpose of research, problems and justifications:

    Electronic waste, often referred to as e-waste, simply refers to any old, broken, obsolete or discarded electronic device and its parts. Examples include computer towers and monitors, mobile phones, television sets, scanners, printers, projectors, keyboards, game consoles, bat- teries, and more––almost any household or business item with circuitry or electrical components with power or battery supply. Electronic products have become ubiquitous in today’s society, leading to an increase in the growth of the electronic market globally. It is well known that with increasing consumption comes increasing waste production, to the point where waste manage- ment and e-waste management has become a large sustainability challenge. Further, e-waste is a major concern because of the many toxic components that are not easily biodegradable, or not biodegradable at all (Bhutta, Omar & Yang, 2011).

    The amount of e-waste found in landfills is increasing, therefore it is important that any recyclable components are properly managed to curb potential environmental issues. When these products are placed in landfills or incinerated, they pose health risks due to the hazardous materials they contain such as: heavy metals, plastics, chlorofluorocarbons, flame-retardants, and other hazardous compounds (Srivastava et al, 2011; Wath et al, 2011). These can pollute or contaminate the air, soil and water. Many electronic products can be reused, refurbished or re- cycled so an effective e-waste disposal is necessary. Dalhousie University has a population (faculty, students, and staff) that is constantly consuming and disposing electronics and so it is important to have and implement an effective e-waste management. Further, the global production of e-waste is estimated to be 20-25 million tonnes per year (Robinson, 2009). Modern electronic devices contain numerous environmentally harmful and carcinogenic metals, including lead, mercury, cadmium, chromium, copper, (Kaushal and Nema, 2013), as well as many different types of plastics (Robinson, 2009). Deleterious health effects from cadmium primarily take the form of kidney damage, but cadmium can also lower bone den- sity causing fractures (Jarup, 2003). The negative effects of mercury have been known for cen- turies, and include damage to the nervous system, kidneys and reproductive system (Frumkin et al, 2001). The plastics found in e-waste are often carcinogenic, and mostly take the form of polybrominated diphenyl ethers, aromatic hydrocarbons, polychlorinated biphenyls, and chloro- fluorocarbons. Aside from cancers, they can also cause organ damage, nervous system dam- age and endocrine malfunction (Robinson, 2009).

    Subsequently, the improper disposal of electronics has become problematic throughout the developed world. The human health effects of e-waste are mirrored in the environmental ef- fects; ecosystems are accumulating harmful non-biodegradable chemicals, and the flora and fauna of the ecosystems are suffering for it (Robinson, 2009). Most e-waste ends up in landfills, and while some recycling programs exist, they are not always environmentally sound. In some locations where large-scale e-waste recycling occurs, the concentration of the harmful chemi- cals is significantly higher than is considered safe. However, since these polluted locations are most often in developing countries such as India, the Philippines, and China, first-world govern- ments often turn a blind eye to issues (Robinson, 2009). Despite this, the pollution in these ar- eas will migrate to areas of lower pollutant concentrations; spreading to the unaffected, devel- oped areas. Further, recycling techniques in poor countries often include the burning off of un- wanted plastics to get at the valuable metals underneath (Schmidt, 2002). This has been miti- gated in developed countries with recycling techniques that have been developed to lessen the environmental impact.

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  • Spinney (2012) detailed the phenomenon of psychological obsolescence, where both construction quality and marketing strategies of electronics companies have led many people to feel the need for an upgrade of electronic devices before its physical obsolescence. The ability for consumers to research the technology before they make a purchase, has led companies to produce upgraded technologies faster, therefore encouraging consumer’s to upgrade in a shorter timespan (Spinney, 2012). In addition, rapid consumption of electronics can be demon- strated in cell phone usage. This is due to the short term mobile contracts in the developed world, which artificially enforce a deadline to upgrade personal devices (Geyer & Blass, 2009). Consumers often upgrade to a new phone, despite the old phone remaining functional.

    Formation of research focus and research question: In 2010, the Canadian government announced a federal e-waste strategy with the inten- tions of decreasing Canada’s contribution to global issues from previous disposal of electronic devices (Public Works and Government Services Canada, 2013). The government sought to define e-waste and focus on reduction of packaging, and proper disposal by encouraging reuse and environmentally sound recycling. Implementation of e-waste disposal programs was left to the provinces. Nova Scotia established a not-for-profit organization, called the Electronic Prod- ucts Recycling Association (EPRA), which handles provincial e-waste recycling duties. The pro- gram is funded through a fee imposed during the sale of electronic goods. There are 39 drop-off locations, scattered generously throughout the province for ease of use. The program uses only recyclers audited and approved by the Recycling Qualification Program (RQP), which was de- signed by the electronics manufacturers themselves to ensure safe and environmentally sound recycling (EPRA, 2013). This ensures that the e-waste is not simply shipped to a developing country to be dealt with remotely. Universities and similar institutions can play a pivotal role in lowering improper e-waste disposal. The use of technology in the classroom has skyrocketed since the dawn of the internet age. While laptops, tablets, and mobile phones are not mandatory for in-class note-taking, mate- rial is often presented in a technology-friendly manner. Lectures are given via PowerPoint, and notes are often taken by annotating the lecture files. Also, there are many computer labs open to students on all campuses. This means that in every classroom, there are a great number of technological devices, which will need to be upgraded or disposed of at some point. Over the last few decades, universities strive for environmentally sustainable campuses. Despite this, the technological advances in recent years rapidly render computers, cell phones, printers, projec- tors, and more, useless; thus making an e-waste disposal strategy vital to sustainability efforts.

    For this reason, Dalhousie University and many other institutions have implemented an e-waste disposal strategy. Unfortunately, it is designed only for use by the faculty (Facilities Management, n.d.c.), which is not pragmatic when students are often the earliest adopters of new technologies (Lee, 2014). This is because peer influence creates a vacuum of consumption and disposal among college students, therefore it follows that any collegiate institution should fo