E-waste piles up as offices sit empty during COVID-19 pandemic

The pandemic has changed the way many of us work as some office buildings sit empty and employees connect online from home.

People are also upgrading their home offices with new computers, printers and monitors and many companies are also using this time to upgrade their hardware and IT networks.

It’s creating a mountain of electronic waste or “e-waste.”

Sparta Group is a company with a Scarborough, Ont. warehouse that is currently dealing with between 30,000 to 100,000 pounds of e-waste each day.

“The downtown core is emptying out and it will probably come back, but when it comes back it's going to be different. What's happening now is that people are reshaping what the downtown core is going to look like" said John O’Bireck

O’Bireck said that everyday truck loads of electronics arrive from banks, insurance companies and government offices to be sorted, recycled and repurposed.

There is an emphasis on 100 per cent efficiency.

“Our goal is to process all items and make sure when we do that there is zero waste” said O’Bireck.

Part of the recycling process is extracting precious metals from computers, cell phones and circuit boards, which can be reused again.

“These things can be filled with gold, copper, lead, silver, tin and platinum among other things," said Leonard Shara, Sparta’s Director of Laboratory Services.

In the past e-waste has been shipped to other countries for disposal or dumped in landfill sites, which are both bad for the environment.

“The worst thing that you can possibly do is to throw it away and have it go to land fill,” said Shara.

It's not just big business as many employees in lockdown have upgraded their home offices or purchased electronics to help them stay entertained during the pandemic.

The Ontario government brought in new regulations this year that require producers of electronic devices to play a larger role in managing e-waste to reduce pollution.

If you have old electronics to get rid of you can check with your municipality to see if they have a drop off depot near you.

You can also check with stores that sell electronic devices as many now accept e-waste no matter where you bought the item.