Archive for the ‘Electronics’ category

E-waste on the Rise

February 23rd, 2015

Here in Canada we’ve finally begun addressing the issue of electronic waste. As new phones and electronics make last year’s gadgets look passé, we ditch the ones we had for the newer, better models. Even if we hang onto our phones and computers for as long as possible, the majority of them have an average lifespan of 4-5 years — and by then, let’s face it, they’re ancient!
The EPRA — electronics product recycling association — has branches set up across the country, in every province except New Brunswick. Their job is to get electronics out of landfill and back into the production stream. Perhaps one of the most heartening principles of the EPRA is that it will not ship unprocessed electronic waste off-shore; we are dealing with it right here in Canada. We’re not perfect, but e-waste recycling, an industry-based initiative, is increasing so that more and more valuable and toxic metals and plastics are being removed from the waste stream and put back into the production stream.

» Read more: E-waste on the Rise

ChargeSpot – wireless charging for your phone

January 5th, 2015

ChargeSpot - Surface

In December I attended Construct Canada, attending seminars and looking for greener building materials and anything else that might stand out. One of the things that grabbed my attention was the ChargeSpot wireless charger. Pat Laureano, Founder and CTO of ChargeSpot, explained to me that it’s as simple as placing your dying phone on top of the logo indicating a charging spot.

Now, if you’re anything like me, when you go to meetings or conferences, you are constantly seeking out electrical outlets in hallways and conference rooms and racing to get there before others, pulling out your cord and adapter to recharge that baby, because, after all, who can live without a phone these days? As a writer my phone also acts as my recorder, camera, agenda and library. So, when it dies, I feel pretty darn useless.

When Pat started to explain the simplicity and ease of the ChargeSpot, I could immediately see the appeal of the product.

» Read more: ChargeSpot – wireless charging for your phone

Recycling Electronics in Quebec: Environmental Handling Fee as of October 1st, 2012

August 15th, 2012

broken keyboard, defunct speakers

Starting October 1, 2012 there will be an Environmental Handling Fee (EHF) charged to a variety of new electronics purchased in Quebec. Quebec will join 7 other provinces which currently charge an environmental handling fee for safe disposal of electronic items.

What is an environmental handling fee?: An environmental handling fee is indicated on receipts for electronic purchases as an “EHF” with an associated cost. The fee covers the cost of recovering and recycling or processing that electronic once it reaches its end of life. The money goes to the Association pour le recyclage des produits electronique du Quebec (ARPE) which manages the program, identifies and certifies recyclers and processors of electronic waste, as well as funding drop-off centres where consumers and businesses can take their old electronics. The environmental handling fee will vary by product. The fee is meant to reflect the true cost of disposing the product.

Best Buy has a document on its website which outlines what the environmental handling fees are by product and province. Visit its website to learn more.

Where electronic items can be dropped off: There are several municipalities within Quebec that already operate drop-off centres for old electronics. These will continue to exist, but will now be funded by the ARPE. There is no charge for dropping off old electronics. Keeping them out of landfill is very important, however, given that there are many valuable metals within electronics that can be extracted and reused, as well as toxic materials that should not leach into the ground. Recycling is the most reponsible method of disposing of electronic devices.

In addition to municipalities already participating in e-waste recycling, Bureau en Gros (Staples outside of Quebec) also has drop-off depots for old electronics.

All e-waste is then collected and sent to certified recyclers and processors for recovery.

For a list of depots and municipalities that participate in e-waste collection in Quebec, see this page on the ARPE site.

To find a list of depots and municipalities in other provinces, visit the EPRA homepage (Electronic Products Recycling Association) to find your province, items accepted for recycling and depots where you can drop them off.

What kinds of electronic and electrical devices can be recycled?: Below is a list of products that can currently accepted for safe disposal and recycling in Quebec. Hopefully the list will grow as the program becomes more established. (source)


What Can I Recycle (in Quebec)?


Portable Computers

  • Laptop computer
  • Notebook computer
  • Tablet computer
  • Netbook computer
  • E-book readers

Desktop Computer

  • Computer terminal
  • Desktop computer used as a server
  • Thin client or Net top Computers

Display Devices

  • Television
  • Computer monitor
  • Professional display
  • Closed circuit monitor screen
  • TV with built-in DVD and/or VCR player/recorder
  • All in one computer

Printers, Scanners and Fax Machines

  • Desktop printers
  • Desktop scanners
  • Desktop MFDs
  • Camera dock printers
  • Desktop business card scanners
  • Desktop cheque scanners
  • Desktop computer scanners
  • Desktop fax machines
  • Desktop label, barcode, card printers
  • Desktop photo negative scanner

Floor standing Print, Copy, Fax and Multi-Functions Product

  • Floor standing printers
  • Floor standing scanners
  • Floor standing MFDs
  • Floor standing fax machine drum scanners
  • Floor standing fax machine photocopiers
  • Floor standing fax machines

Computer Peripherals

  • Mouse
  • Trackball
  • Keyboard
  • Keypad
  • Cables
  • Connectors
  • Chargers
  • Remotes

NON-Cellular Phones and Answering Machines

  • Telephones (corded and cordless, VoIP, satellite phones)
  • Telephone line answering machines (cassette and digital)
  • Speaker/Conference phone

Cellular devices and Pagers

  • Cellular phones, including those offering camera, video recording and/or audio functions
  • Smart phones (cell-enabled)
  • Palmtop computers (cell-enabled)
  • Cell-enabled PDAs utilizing touch-screen technology
  • Cell-enabled handheld devices
  • Pagers
The e-waste collection programs vary significantly from province to province. British Columbia’s is the most advanced, charging handling fees on almost any computer, small appliance or electronic, but it also accepts almost all electrical devices for recycling.

::via Blueway

HeronLED Personal Task Light Made from 89% Post Consumer Recycled Plastic, Great Design

October 18th, 2011

Nancy Wahl-Scheurich with the HerronLED and components

Nancy Wahl-Scheurich is the Co-Founder of Little Footprint Lighting, a lighting company that will launch its first product: the HeronLED Personal Task Light in the next few weeks. I caught up with Nancy at Greenbuild a few weeks ago to talk about this well-designed, low energy lamp.

The Design: As I’ve always said, it doesn’t matter how eco-friendly, green, low-impact, whatever you want to call it, a product is, if it’s not well-designed and appealing to the eye, it’s a wasted product. The HeronLED is in the shape of, you guessed it, the Great Blue Heron. It has a sleek design, and the nice little vents that contribute to its herron-like appearance aren’t just a design feature, they also provide the necessary heat venting for any well-functioning LED lighting system. The individual LED bulb uses 4 Watts of electricity but provides the same amount of light as a 30Watt incandesent bulb.


HerronLED task lamp

Perhaps one of the unique features of this lamp is that in the event that the bulb stops working before the end of its estimated 15 year life span, it is replaceable. One of the issues that Nancy found while working for an architectural LED lighting company, was that in many of the LED task lamps made today, the bulb is integrated into the entire design. If something ever went wrong with the bulb, you have to throw the entire light out, yes, including the lamp! How green is that? So Nancy and her business partner, Cecilia Lobdill, set about making a lamp with replaceable bulbs. It may seem obvious to us, but apparently it isn’t in the LED task lighting industry.

Material Use: Another goal that Nancy and Cecelia had was not just to make a lamp that used a small amount of electricity, but also to ensure that the manufacturing of the product was as low-impact as possible. To this end, the body of the lamp is made from 89% post consumer recycled plastic — and not just any post consumer plastic, but e-waste plastic. Nancy found a company northern California, that recycles e-waste to an extensive degree. Not only does it separate the metal from the plastic, but the company also separates all the different types of plastics that make up electronics into their individual plastics. In the Herron’s case it uses recycled ABS plastic (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, the same plastic that is used for Lego building blocks). The plastics recycling company processes the separated ABS plastic into a pellet that consisting of 89% recycled ABS plastic and 11% additives such as colourants. The plastic pellets are shipped down the road to the manufacturing plant in San Leandro, CA. It is uses the pellets in an injection moulding process, assembles the lamp with a steel base, made from 70% recycled steel from an American manufacturer, an LED bulb which contains a CREE chip — a high quality US LED chip manufacturer. Nancy told me that the LED bulb is made in Vermont at a company called LEDdynamics. I confess, I didn’t know there were any LED lighting manfacturers in Vermont.

ABS Plastic pre-shredded (left), medium shred, (right)

ABS Plastic. Left, medium stage. Right in pellet form, ready for injection mould

The point of explaining how these desk lamps are made is to show you how much thought and effort has gone into this product. Little Footprint was out to make a well-designed, affordable, energy efficient, low-impact desk light. They even considered its end-of-life disposal. They’ve accomplished it all the while maintaining manufacturing of it within the US.  To top it all off, the company offers a five year warranty on its product. Oh, and when the lamp has reached its end of life? It can be completely recycled again. Now that’s a perfect example of a “cradle to cradle” product.

Purchase: The lamp will be on the market as of the end of the end of November — early December, 2011. Currently they are taking advance orders and are selling it through their website for the early adopters price of US$145.99. It will regularly sell for US$195.99. The company ships to Canada and the product will carry the ETL/cETL listing mark showing compliance with Canadian and US electrical safety standards.

Energy Efficiency — Creating and Implementing an Action Plan

September 10th, 2011

Woods auto shut off powerbar

I’ve written many articles on energy efficiency, and read a lot on it as well, where I’ve always gotten frustrated are the uncoordinated tips that are given about improving your home’s energy efficiency. “Buy this super duper auto shut-off plug!” “Install CFLs!” “Replace your windows and doors!” If you’re not taking targeted action, you’re not going to be as efficient as you think you are. You have to know where you use the most electricity before making changes, otherwise you’re not spending wisely, and you won’t see the results you want.

The first three articles in this series on energy efficiency involved discovering how much electricity your household uses, doing a home DIY electricity audit to determine which devices are using the most electricity, and finally, monitoring your family’s behaviour to see how electricity is being used. Now it’s time to synthesize that information and take concrete steps towards lowering your electricity consumption. You’ve done the research, now do the foot work.

Set a target. Let’s say you’ve determined that your family uses 1200 KWH of electricity per month and you want to get that consumption down to 900 KWH/month. Look through your energy audit and any notes on family behaviour regarding electricity you’ve made and decide how easily achievable the goal is (Reducing from 1200 KWH to 900 KWH is a 25% reduction, so it could be a top-lofty goal to start with).

There are four ways to reduce plug load consumption:

  • unplug,
  • use power intermittently,
  • replace items with more efficient models, substitution (ie., ceiling fans for central air),
  • change family behaviour (probably the toughest action to enforce).

Unplug. You know where electricity in your home is being used from your DIY audit. Go after the inexpensive, low hanging fruit first. No, not the light bulbs, unplugging gadgets. Unplugging is a no-brainer. Why is your VCR still plugged in? When was the last time you used it? What about that digital clock and old TV in the spare room you rarely use? What about the coffeemaker? If you don’t use the timer and it has a clock, unplug it. Any cord that comes with a DC converter and feels hot to the touch when it’s plugged in should be unplugged unless in use, particularly cellphone chargers and laptops. Those chargers draw power even when nothing’s attached to them. If you’ve done a meticulous electricity audit, you can see on paper just how much electricity you’ll stop using by unplugging gadgets and just how close to your goal the unplugging will bring you. Not only have you not spent a dime to make changes, you’re now paying less to your utility company too.

Use power intermittently. This means put gadgets on timers, unplug cellphone chargers when something’s finished charging. Learn how to program and use your thermostat for both winter and summer. The earliest models were a pain to program, but the current models walk you through programming fairly easily. Schedule 15 minutes one weekend morning and program your thermostat to meet your family’s needs.

Add auto-shut off bars to your gaming stations, computer stations, and anything else that uses a lot of phantom power, such as cell phone chargers. You can plug several cords into one unit, so you will likely only need two or three cords, maybe you even have some already that you bought with good intentions, but just never got around to using properly.

Look at your DIY Audit, figure out how many power cords you’ll need, then program the devices to be on for only a few hours a day (why turn on a gaming station before 4 in the afternoon, or even, during the week if your kids aren’t allowed to game during the week?).

If you use your outdoor lighting every night, all night, you might want to consider putting it on timers or sensors so that it only goes on when someone approaches. We only use our outdoor lights when we’re expecting company (or the pizza delivery guy), because there’s a street light outside our home that does the job.

Go to saveONenergy for money-saving coupons on many energy efficient products including light bulbs, sensors and auto shut-off timers. Note: coupons are valid in Ontario only.

Calculate how much electricity you’d save if items were completely off for 18 hours per day and see how close you’re getting to your target.

Replace items with more efficient models. This is the area where some investment is involved, so you might want to develop a budget and see how much you’re prepared to do and when.

Lighting. In our house lighting counts for up to 20% of our over all electricity consumption, so it’s worthwhile examining where changes can be made to have an impact on overall efficiency. However, I have a confession to make: I hate CFL bulbs. I don’t like the light they cast or how long it takes for them to warm up. They don’t last as long as they’re touted to because (and no one ever tells you this) the more often you turn them on and off, the shorter their lifespan; they’ve got mercury in them, and you just know that some people are not going to dispose of them responsibly so some are likely ending up in landfill. It’s hard to find dimmable CFLs, and finally, I don’t like their shape because they don’t fit with some of my lamps. Harrumph. But I still use them. Not everywhere, just where I have a tendency to have lights on all the time, like in my office, the rec. room, and the kitchen.

Before changing all your light bulbs to CFLs and LEDs think about what really needs changing. Don’t bother replacing bulbs that are rarely used, ie., basement or hall closets, any other rooms/lamps where lights are rarely turned on. It’s not worth the money, and you won’t be saving enough electricity to make a difference. The next time those burn out, replace it with something more efficient. In the mean time focus on the rooms where lights are on the most often. In our house it’s the kitchen, the office and the rec. room. They all contain CFLs (even though I hate them). Not only will you see a significant drop in electricity consumption, but in the summer they generate less heat relieving your air conditioner of some stress too. Of course the corollary of that is that they generate less heat in the winter, so you might be increasing your heating bill slightly.

I like LED bulbs. They’re dimmable, they’re better looking, the light they cast is crisp. Plus, they don’t have any mercury in them. Because they’re still not cost effective for short-term decisions, it’s best to replace lights where they’re used the majority of the time. Buying LEDs, however, isn’t as simple as going into Home Depot and picking up a few, so I’ve written an article on how to buy LED lights. Invest in good quality ones and they will last the 75,000 to 100,000 hours they say they will.

Appliances. The next time you need new appliances, look for the most efficient Energy Star appliances you can afford. Here’s the thing about Energy Star, in order to be certified, an appliance needs to be at least 20% more efficient than its non-Energy Star counterpart. But there are many, many brands that go much farther beyond the 20% more efficient. Read labels and Energuide information that’s tacked on the front of all models and compare to the brand beside it. European models are so much more efficient than most North American models it’s not even funny — but they’re also considerably more expensive and may be hard or expensive to repair if anything goes wrong. Buy new appliances when you need them, and figure out which one is going to make the biggest dent in your electricity bill (most likely the fridge and the washer).

Note that central air conditioners and furnaces are also Energy Star rated, as are new homes, but not ovens or dryers. If you know how much energy your current appliances use, you can figure out how much electricity a new model is going to save you.

Ceiling fans: There are Energy Star rated ceiling fans too, although using ceiling fans throughout the house will permit you to set your central air conditioner at a higher temperature, or do without it altogether. Ceiling fans consume, on average, about 60 Watts of electricity, versus a central air conditioning unit which uses approximately 3500 Watts (depending on the size, year made, efficiency, etc.).

Change Family Behaviour. If you’ve been watching your family’s and your own behaviour, you’ll have noticed when they leave lights/computers/gaming stations on, the fridge door open, chargers plugged in, etc.  Controlling your own behaviour is the easiest and maybe the best way to start is by improving your own habits. Can you line dry some of your clothes more often? Have you set up a centralized cellphone charging station where it’s easy to unplug at the end of a charging session? Have you got yourself into the habit of turning lights and computers off every time you leave the room?

Regarding the rest of your family, doing a few calculations to see how much it costs every time these little actions occur may help, especially if there’s a way to incentivize them to change. If, after a year of behaviour change you saved enough money to treat yourselves to your family’s favourite restaurant, or something even bigger, maybe that would help. Whatever motivates them to think about conserving, you should try. Maybe they can help you brainstorm ideas, if kids take a stake in the decisions, they are more likely to follow through — with lots of reminders, coaching, and encouragement.

Review and compare. Now that you’ve taken steps to reduce your electricity, review and compare your results and see how you’re doing versus your original target goals. There are a few ways to do this: The first is to wait until you get your next electric bill and see what your power usage from the previous year was. If you want instant gratification, and you have a smart meter, and you live in a service area, sign up for Not only does the service send you your electricity usage daily, it starts you off with an automatic 10% reduction target. Every time you use less electricity, you receive a cash deposit in your Paypal account at the end of the month. If you don’t have a smart meter hooked up to your home yet, have a look at the Power Cost monitor. This company has just teamed up with Plot Watt to offer even those homes without smart meters the ability to track and identify accurately, the electricity consumers in the home.

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