March 23, 2005

Discarded electronic devices contain toxic substances too harmful even for landfill sites.  But that’s actually good news for those involved in the Sharbot Lake-based Frontenac Electronic Waste Recovery Project (FEWR).

By finding alternative uses for electronic waste (e-waste), FEWR participants have prevented 17 tonnes of lead – as well as arsenic, barium and mercury – from getting into eastern Ontario landfills.  They’ve simultaneously given unique training opportunities to youth and unemployed people, creating jobs and increasing the number of computers for schools both locally and in developing countries.

E-waste is a blanket term for many unwanted home and office luxuries.  This includes computers, monitors, printers, scanners, keyboards and television sets.  The Sharbot Lake facility categorizes e-waste and redirects it to the most efficient and safe location.  Some materials will be properly recycled in one of Ontario’s designated stations.  Selected parts and systems will be employed in the next addition to a school’s computer lab.

Mark Elliot integrates the FEWR project with his classroom curriculum.  Students enrolled in his computer engineering course at Sharbot Lake High School (SLHS) are putting together networks and refurbishing old computers.  Over the course of three years, his students have diverted 10, 200 computers from landfills and refurbished more than 9,000 of them.  SLHS can now boast one computer for every person in the school.

Based on a cost of $250 for each revamped computer, the program has been instrumental in the distribution of $1.39 million worth of computers to schools.

The project is a globally recognized phenomenon and has gained the attention of communities around the world.  The Sharbot Lake model is becoming a popular term to describe hard work and innovative thinking that results in community betterment.  Tom Taylor, Principal of SLHS, is proud the community’s accomplishments.

“People don’t just refer to the Sharbot Lake model in the Frontenacs,” Taylor says.  They are referring to the Sharbot Lake model all over the world.”

The FEWR is also working to create innovative technology that will allow extended use of inferior computer systems.  Dubbed “thin client technology”, it features a free operating system and dozens of free programs that compare to Windows software.  A selection of schools in Ghana were the first to benefit from the thin client networks.

The importance of the project is augmented by incoming Ontario legislation to ban electronic waste from landfills.  In 2002, about 157,000 tonnes of e-waste plagued Canada’s landfills.  The Ontario government would like to see all e-waste diverted from landfills.   Local MPP Leona Dombrowsky believes in the importance of e-waste diversion.

“Diverting these materials from disposal means preventing thousands of tonnes of metal, plastic, wiring and harmful chemicals from ending up as waste in a landfill”, says Dombrowsky.

FEWR is the result an initiative by the Land O’ Lakes Communications Network (LOLCN), Computers for Schools Ontario, Frontenac Community Futures Development Corporation (FCFDC), Human Resources and Skills Canada, the Limestone District School Board (LDSB), the Township of Central Frontenac and Sharbot Lake High School.  It was the recipient of the 2005 OACFDC Award for Community Economic Development.