New Dyson wireless vacuum sucks it up

17 Mar

DC62

By Geoff Meeker

March 17, 2014 – Early in February, I previewed the new Dyson DC62 wireless vacuum. A demo unit was on its way and I promised to get back to you after I’d put the machine through its paces.

The Dyson, of course, is a great machine – arguably the best vacuum cleaner on the market. My only complaint up to now – and it’s a minor one – is that they are heavy and cumbersome to lug around the house, especially up stairs.

So when Dyson announced the cordless, much lighter DC62, I took notice.

“Forget pesky cords and bulky cleaners,” said the Dyson media release. “The latest Dyson… DC62 vacuum is lightweight, cordless, and boasts three times the suction of any other cordless vacuum in use. With 26 minutes of fade-free cleaning performance, (it is) light and easy to maneuver between high, low and hard to reach spaces. No more fiddling with plugs or tripping over cords. Simply remove from the docking station and go.”

This reminded me of one other thing I don’t like about vacuums: that annoying cord, which never seems long enough to reach the far corner of the room. So I was quite intrigued.

When the parcel arrived, the first thing I noted was how light it was, box and all – a promising development. Thanks to clearly illustrated instructions, the vacuum snapped together quickly. Following directions, I plugged it in to start charging, a process that takes about three and a half hours.

While waiting, I pored over the accessories and owner’s manual, learning that the 26-minute running time is reduced if you use the power nozzle. I was impressed to find a wall-mount bracket that allows you to hang the vacuum out of the way. And it comes with two powered brush heads – large and small – plus two snap-on attachments. The rigid extension hose is removeable, creating a compact vacuum ideal for cleaning vehicle interiors.

Once charged, I took the DC62 to my workspace, a studio measuring about 800 square feet with a carpet that had not been vacuumed in several weeks, and set to work.

After its first use, cleaning 800 square feet, the DC62 canister was full to the max line. (Geoff Meeker photo)

After its first use, cleaning 800 square feet, the DC62 canister was full to the max line. (Geoff Meeker photo)

The vacuum was a pleasure to use – lightweight, easy to steer and simple to operate (using a trigger switch that conserves power). I moved quickly, determined to cover the entire room in 26 minutes. I succeeded, but only barely. The vacuum’s light weight makes it easy to remove the power nozzle head and lift the device high, wand-like, to magically remove dust from air vents, cupboard tops and other hard to reach areas. And any questions about suction power were answered by the canister, which was filled pretty much to the “maximum” line. The Dyson passed the most important test – cleaning power – with flying colours.

The wireless DC62 is light and easy to use, but has the suction of a regular vacuum – though running time will be an issue for some. The dog mistook it for a regular vacuum cleaner and barked as loudly as ever. (Geoff Meeker photo)

The wireless DC62 is light and easy to use, but has the suction of a regular vacuum – though running time will be an issue for some. The dog mistook it for a regular vacuum cleaner and barked as loudly as ever. (Geoff Meeker photo)

Should you buy this device? If the idea of a lightweight vacuum with no cord appeals to you, that’s a selling point. If you own a motor home, trailer or small cottage – where space is at a premium – that’s another plus.

On the other hand, the 26-minute running time is too short for most households. Whether this will work for you depends on how you are wired. In my case, I’m perfectly fine with setting the machine down to charge and returning to finish the task later. My wife had a different reaction. When the battery died, she picked up the older, plug-in model and carried on, determined to get the job done.

Whether the DC62 will work for you will hinge on which reaction you most identify with. Oh, and the $549 price tag may also be a determinant.

In most technology, batteries have a limited life. Eventually, they fail to hold their charge and need to be replaced. How long will the battery last? Is it replaceable by the user, or does it require service? I emailed these questions to my contact at Dyson.

“DC62 uses a re-engineered nickel-manganese-cobalt (NMC) battery that has been customized to deliver the level of constant power and battery life that the machine needs, whereas with some competitor machines the power will start to drop-off when still in use,” the spokesperson said. “At Dyson we take testing seriously, our prototypes are subjected to months of repetitive and rigorous testing, a different rig for every part. That’s why we’re proud to offer a two-year guarantee on cordless technology. Should anything happen to the machine before then we would offer a fix free of charge. Having said that, the battery is replaceable by the user.”

The DC62 works like a charm and delivers on its promise of powerful suction, but some people may have an issue with the limited running time.

An app a day keeps the boredom away

3 Mar
The App of the Day keeps a running tally in the upper left corner of the value of all apps you’ve downloaded – for absolutely free.  (Screen grab)

The App of the Day keeps a running tally in the upper left corner of the value of all apps you’ve downloaded – for absolutely free. (Screen grab)

By Geoff Meeker

March 3, 2014 – I don’t spend a lot of time browsing and buying apps for my iPhone. While they add functionality and offer some great gameplay, apps can be major time sinks – just browsing them is time-consuming and I cringe at the number of hours squandered on Angry Birds.

Though cheap, generally .99 to 2.99, apps can also be a waste of money. It’s true: how many apps have you purchased but hardly ever used?

However, in the last few months I have found a way to stay in touch with apps new and old, and download what I like without having to purchase a single one.

It’s called App of the Day, a free download on iTunes. (The same app is also available for Android users.) Every day, it offers a new, often best-selling app for free download. If you like what you see, click the install button and away you go. It’s as simple as that. Just be sure to enable push notifications so that you are notified when the new app is available (otherwise, if you’re anything like me, you’ll likely forget to manually check it every day).

How do they do this? The App of the Day has 20 million users so developers are lining up to take advantage of its promotional reach and are only too willing to give their app away for one day. After all, several million new users are going to chat about the app to their friends – assuming they like it – resulting in more sales.

I have downloaded at least 30 apps through this service and will offer mini-reviews of the more notable ones here. They aren’t free anymore but are definitely worth the asking price.

Split Lens

Split Lens

How many times have you wanted to merge two photos into one, before posting to social media? It could be a before and after hairdo shot, a random bunch of party scenes or just two or three images that would work better fused into one. The Split Lens app will do this for you, with 57 photo templates that allow you to combine two, three and more photos, vertically, horizontally or a combination of both. And get this: you can merge video clips into split screens too, with 13 templates to choose from, plus a number of filters to change the look and feel of your collages. At just .99 cents, you can’t go wrong with Split Lens.

Tasty Tadpoles

Tasty Tadpoles

For me, a good handheld game is fun, easy to learn and immediately addictive. Tasty Tadpoles is such a game. You simply navigate your tadpole through the pond, picking up points while avoiding predators and other dangers. It’s easy at first but the difficulty ramps up fast. The interface requires you to navigate by plotting a series of angles, so it’s great mental exercise. The game is fun for adults and children and a decent buy for $2.99.

Node Beat

NodeBeat

This one brings out the musician in all of us.  NodeBeat allows you to start playing music as soon as you open the app – a new-age kind of sound where all notes sound good together – but you can change octave and rhythm, or let the app create its own music for you. You can save compositions and even output as MIDI files but, really, this is just a bit of fun – especially for children, who will love the interactivity of it. Recommended at 1.99.

Nighty Night

Nighty Night

My boys are too old for this, one of the top-selling children’s apps, but I had to download just to experience the graphics and user interface. I was not disappointed. Nighty Night is truly special and proves that children’s stories can be enhanced by the digital medium. The relaxing music and narration is perfect for bedtime and – like any good story – children will want to come back to it again and again. A fabulous buy at 1.99.

So what are you waiting for? Go now and download the App of the Day, enable push notifications, then prepare to explore a new app every 24 hours. If you don’t like it, don’t get it. If you’re not sure, download it anyway and delete at your leisure.

In the upper left corner of the screen, the App of the Day keeps a running tally of the value of your downloads. Thus far, I have saved more than $67 – and I’ve been selective in my choices. That’s pretty good for an App that’s free to download.

Trunx extension

I wrote in my last column about the Trunx cloud-based photo storage app, which offers free unlimited backup of all files uploaded by February 28th. And I have good news: the service is now available for Android devices, and the unlimited free storage offer has been extended to April 30, 2014. Search for the Trunx app in iTunes or Google Play and get the desktop uploader at trunx.me.

Back up all those photos for free – for now

17 Feb
A screen capture of the Trunx application, with the photo archive presented in chronological order.

A screen capture of the Trunx application, with the photo archive presented in chronological order.

February 17, 2014 – The matter of computer back-ups has been raised numerous times in this column, the last time being June of 2013, when a software update caused what could have been a disastrous loss of data.

I have written about storing data in the cloud – on remote, password-protected servers – and on external hard drives. The cost of the cloud-based solution was reasonable, but it would have required me to review and cull a lot of outdated files. In other words, I had collected too much raw information on my computer and didn’t have time to go back, review and remove obsolete files.

Most services at the time charged by the gigabyte (GB) of data. And I had more than 1,000 GB – or one terrabyte (TB) – on the hard drive, so I settled for a 2 TB external hard drive, which backs up my work in real time, all day long.

I was happy with this until last week, when I learned about the Trunx app, through a blogger and Facebook friend in California.

Trunx is a cloud-based storage service available now for the iPhone (an Android version is in development), as well as PC and Mac computers. The apps are free: search for Trunx in iTunes and download the desktop app at trunx.me.

Trunx backs up photographs (plus any videos taken within the app) and, to launch with a splash, the service is free. Upload and back up all your photos now – no matter how many or how large – before the end of February and they will be saved for you forever. At no charge.

There has to be a catch, right? I emailed their PR person to ask what it was. Here is his reply:

“Any photo, video or EchoPix you take with Trunx or any photo you import to your account from now until February 28th will always be free. For example, if you have 15 GB in your account by that date, you’ll never have to pay a dime for that storage. After February, you will not be charged for the storage you have accumulated – you will only need to specify an account type. There will be two account types: free and unlimited. To upgrade to the unlimited account, you could either pay on a monthly or yearly basis – the pricing will be competitive.”

The venture is so new that a pricing structure hasn’t been established yet, but that’s a secondary concern: key point is, all data uploaded before the end of the month will be stored free, forever.

EchoPix is a Trunx feature. It allows you to take photos with an audio overlay, useful for celebrations where you want to capture voices and mood or add additional context to the image.

There is other free storage out there. For instance, flickr.com offers up to 1 TB of free space. However, these images are meant for public display (though there is a private option) and the uploading process is manual – you have to do it yourself. With Trunx, the default is private – they are big on privacy – and images are uploaded all at once in batches and then automatically, as you take them.

The other key differentiator is, you can back up all photos posted in Facebook and Instagram.

I downloaded the Trunx app for my iPhone. First, it asked if I wanted to back up the photo library on my device, which I did – a process that took about three hours (I never delete photos so there are several thousand). You can set the app to upload only when wifi is available, an option I strongly recommend to avoid maxing out your data plan.

Next, I uploaded from Facebook – which also took several hours – and then Instagram, which took a minute or two (I don’t use the app much). The Facebook and Instagram options are ideal for those who want to close their accounts but want a private and secure backup of all images they’ve posted.

After that, I downloaded the app to my iMac desktop and dragged my photo folder into the ‘upload’ window. Six hours later, I had backed up 23,967 images to the Trunx cloud.

Now, I can open the app on my iPhone and scroll – in chronological order – through that entire library of images. A calendar window allows me to go straight to the month I’m looking for. Low-resolution thumbnails are displayed but high-res files are easily downloaded, should I want them. The same images are backed up on my external drive but now they are accessible when I’m out and about – a great convenience – and there is an additional layer of redundancy, in case the external drive is stolen or damaged.

Going forward, I can set up Trunx to back up all photos and videos to the cloud as I take them, bypassing the phone completely – which makes sense for those who have limited memory on their phones.

The Trunx service is useful, easy to use and private. I give it two thumbs up. But look into it now, while the service is still free.

Tabletop radio doesn’t quite deliver the goods

3 Feb

Consumertech #164 photo low res

February 3, 2014 – Early in December, as part of a column about recommended Christmas gifts, I referenced the Tivoli tabletop radio. In just a hundred words or so, I said it was tiny, looked “deliciously retro” and sounded great.

Guess what I gave myself for Christmas? That’s right: a Tivoli, in this case the Model One Bluetooth ($250 at West End Electronics). When I heard the display unit in the showroom I was impressed by its deep and rich sound, due in part to the electronic components, speaker quality and wooden case. It had a resonance that reminded me of my parents’ old multiband radio, which served as the soundtrack for my childhood (whenever I was in the kitchen, at any rate).

My original plan was to use the Tivoli at my workplace, a second floor suite on Duckworth Street. However, when I powered up and tuned in, I was frustrated and ultimately disappointed by the radio’s inability to get cleanly “on station.”

There is a little display light that dims and brightens, depending on the strength of the signal. But try as I might – and as bright as that light got – there was always a mild, static-like crackle that wouldn’t go away no matter where I positioned the radio.

Any serious radio listener knows that a crackling signal is the kiss of death. I’d rather listen to pigeons cooing on the windowsill.

Now, the Bluetooth feature worked perfectly well. You only need to “find” the iPhone (or other device) once and it locks on instantly after that, allowing me to play iTunes until the pigeons come home. Music sounds good on the Tivoli, though not as good as my reliable Logitech S715i. Besides, I was most interested in the radio feature, since I listen to talk radio all day long.

There is a work-around, of course. Using the Tivoli’s Bluetooth, I can listen to streaming radio through CBC and VOCM apps (which both work fine) on my iPhone. The streaming radio sound is fantastic and showcases the unit’s full audio potential. However, streaming audio for eight hours per day can chew up a lot of data and possibly exceed the monthly limit.

I decided to take the unit home to Conception Bay South and try it there. The reception would have to be better, right?

Wrong. There was the same static. I moved the radio from my preferred location on the kitchen counter to the living room, where no other appliances could possibly cause interference. Still a weak signal.

There are inputs on the back for AM and FM antennas. The latter antenna was included with the unit and this did improve FM reception, but there was no AM antenna. Odd.

This is not a deal breaker. I will buy the antenna and no doubt reception will improve. I just find it strange that my 15-year-old, cabinet-mounted GE radio (that cost roughly $100) has crystal clear reception in the same location, as does the old Sanyo portable at my office ($15 at a yard sale), while this $250 radio doesn’t.

Lighter, wireless Dyson

Dyson vacuum cleaners have had more than their share of coverage in this column. There is no question that the vacuum works better than any on the market and is a quality build – my first Dyson, reviewed back in 2007, is still going strong and I’ve written about a newer model since then.

So, when Dyson asked recently if I’d like to review their latest model, I was hesitant… until the publicist convinced me that this really was a significant new development.

This latest model, launched late in January, is lightweight and cordless.

Now, you need to pause and think about that. My only real complaint with Dyson to date has been their bulk and heft. The more recent “ball” vacuum features a lot of machine up front, sometimes getting in the way of itself, and it is heavy to carry up and down stairs. And wireless? This is a concept that hadn’t even occurred to me until now but, come on, who hates unplugging the machine every five minutes to move to the next cleaning zone?

Was I interested in trying out a demo unit, Dyson asked?

You bet I am. I’ll have more when the machine arrives and I’ve had a chance to really put it through its paces.

A new danger with dryer vents

20 Jan
It was just two litres of water but enough to completely block the dryer vent hose, creating a potentially dangerous situation. (Geoff Meeker photo)

It was just two litres of water but enough to completely block the dryer vent hose, creating a potentially dangerous situation. (Geoff Meeker photo)

January 20, 2014 – Just when you thought you were up on all the potentially life-threatening things that can go wrong with your clothes dryer, along comes a new wrinkle.

You know how important it is to keep the dryer’s outdoor exhaust vent clear of snow, the lint trap clean and otherwise ensure that hot air can exit the machine unencumbered. Otherwise, superheated air can build up inside the machine resulting in a house fire.

So, last week we noticed that the dryer was behaving oddly. It’s half of an energy-efficient, front-loading washer-dryer duo purchased two years ago so we weren’t expecting problems this soon.  But something was definitely amiss. Steam was condensing around the outside edge of the door and clothes were not drying. On opening the door, a cloud of hot steam smacked me in the face.

It was clear that air was not venting from the dryer. I checked the outdoor vent and it was all clear (there was snow on the ground, though none around the vent hood). I looked behind the dryer and everything appeared normal – the hose was properly connected and not pinched in any way.

We shut the dryer down and called the appliance repair people, who sent someone the next day.

He walked into the laundry room, I explained the problem and he smiled knowingly. To confirm his theory, he reached behind the dryer and jiggled the vent hose.

“I know what’s wrong,” he said. “Get a bucket and a towel. The hose is full of water. We’ll have this fixed in no time.”

What? Water? How could that be? However, my scepticism was promptly washed away when he loosened the hose on back of the dryer and drained about two litres of water into the bucket.

“How did that get in there?” I asked.

“It must have come in from outdoors,” he said. “We had heavy rain and high winds recently. Chances are it blew into the vent. Is there a hood covering the vent?”

Um. No. That was long gone, destroyed by numerous collisions with my lawn mower. The repairman smiled again, said this was definitely the problem – wind was blowing the trap door open, letting the weather in – adding that he sees this fairly often.

My dryer sits on a pedestal that raises the appliance more than a foot off the floor.

“Good thing you have that pedestal – and a fairly slack hose,” the repairman said. “It forced the water to collect at a bend in the pipe near the floor and lower than the back of your dryer. You don’t want water running into the appliance. That’s never a good thing.”

The good news was, the problem was easily fixed – I bought and installed a new vent hood later that same day – and there was no damage to the appliance. But I was one of the lucky ones: many houses are damaged or destroyed by fire – and lives sometimes lost – due to blocked dryer vents.

What should you do? To keep water out, check that your vent hood is intact and that the trap door lies shut.  Occasionally, lift the vent hose to test for water – if it’s there, you will feel the weight. At least once a year, remove the vent hose from the back of the dryer to remove lint build-up, because the lint trap doesn’t catch it all (there was a lot of lint in the water that came out of my vent pipe). And it goes without saying that you need to clean the lint trap between every load of laundry.

As a precaution, avoid starting the dryer before leaving the house or going to bed. You’ve got a 30 amp appliance with a heating element just inches away from flammable clothing, so perhaps it’s best to not leave it running untended.

Indoor venting?

While at the hardware store, I noticed a couple of indoor venting kits which promise to add “extra heat and humidity” to your home by releasing the exhaust directly into the house, through a little box with a filter. It sounds like a great idea but don’t fall for it – these things will pump an excessive amount of humidity into your house that will quickly cause mould and mildew, resulting in expensive remediation work. Furthermore, the lint trap in your dryer and the filter in this device cannot remove all lint, so it will circulate fine lint dust throughout your house.

The idea is sound but you need a way to remove humidity before recovering the heat. The only sensible way to do so would be connecting the dryer exhaust vent to the air-out duct on the air-to-heat exchanger. This way, heat would be reclaimed while steam is vented outdoors. However, even this method would result in a lot of condensation inside the unit so a robust drainage system would be needed.

Are any inventors out there up to the challenge?

E-recycling organization reacts to criticism – part 2

30 Dec

By Geoff Meeker

December 30, 2013 – This week, part two of my interview with Terry Greene, Program Director of the Environmental Products Recycling Association (EPRA), which has come under fire recently for its Environmental Handling Fee (EHF) levied on the purchase of new electronics. Part one appeared in this paper on December 16.

GM: Some talk radio callers have suggested that the EPRA is a mysterious group; that it’s not accountable, could be paying exorbitant salaries to staff and even skimming profits back to manufacturers. What do you say to that?

TG: The reality with EPRA is that we are a non-profit, industry driven organization that is responsible for one small piece of the puzzle. In each province that we operate, we submit a stewardship plan in response to government’s requirement for what is called extended producer responsibility. That is, the responsibility to ensure that products don’t end up going into the landfill is put on the manufacturers and retailers themselves. We manage the program so that those materials can be responsibly collected, transported and recycled with no harm to anybody who is involved in the process. Eighty percent of the dollars collected goes to collection, transportation and recycling. The other 20 percent goes to administrative costs, and advertising to raise public awareness. I work from a home office with a laptop and a cell phone. That’s it. That’s my administrative costs, other than my salary. People have complained about possibly “big salaries being paid to executives.” I’m not going to comment on how much executives are paid because I don’t know how much that is, but… I do get a market value salary here. But exorbitant cost or fees? That’s just not part of the puzzle at all. We have an annual report that is released every year. It is completely transparent in terms of the percentages spent on collections, transportation, processing and administration, and anybody who reads it will see that we are a very lean operation.

GM: What about the accusation that some people in rural areas pay the fee but are too far from drop-off points to practically recycle?

TG: We are still in process of setting up collection locations across the province and are right now aiming to have 21 locations that will be permanent drop-off locations. There are communities across the province that are more rural that will not justify us having a permanent year-round collection location so we will have other things happening, such as annual collection events in more than 30 communities, where people will have an opportunity to bring in any old electronics that they have accumulated.  And we will transport it from that location. We will, for example, have a collection event in all the major coastal communities in Labrador, in Burgeo, Botwood, St. Anthony and areas where it would be cost-prohibitive to set up a permanent facility. This is similar to what is done with household hazardous waste, which is an accepted approach across this province and country. And we are partnering with waste management authorities across the province, to ensure that if someone drops off electronic waste at a landfill it will be diverted for recycling.

GM: Are some of the electronics recycling drop-off points are located in, and piggybacking on, the existing beverage container recycling depots?

TG: Yes. We’re piggybacking as much as possible to manage costs and make drop-offs more convenient. Seventeen of our drop-off points are at Green Depots that are involved in the beverage container and paint return program. They are all private operations and some were willing to get involved in a contract with us and some weren’t.

GM: That is encouraging. One complaint I heard is that there are too many recycling streams in place already, from beverage recycling to curb side blue bags to electronics to the soon-to-be-announced cell phone recycling program.

TG: Yes, that’s right. We tried to get the cell phone program a part of ours as well, but the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association chose to go with its own stewardship plan. But you are absolutely right, there are different streams so as much as possible we’re trying to keep it in the same stream. I was just at the depot in Mount Pearl, and people were coming in with bags of recyclable containers, a TV or stereo, and paint. So there is more and more opportunity to put in place that one stop for people to recycle.

GM: How about the suggestion that a portion of the recycling fee be refundable, as a deposit?

TG: There are a number of points on that. First, we built our fee structure to accommodate costs to collect, transport and recycle electronics. We haven’t built in a surplus amount to cover a refund to the customer. That’s a model that exists across the country and North America, and there’s a reason for that: we represent about 110 products that we will take back from the consumer, so if you assume that there are 110 products being purchased with an associated fee and each has a different refund when it is returned, 10 or 15 years later, to a collection facility, that means there is an administration required for 110 different products, with a refund of anywhere from, say, 50 cents to $6. So administratively, it’s virtually impossible to try to have a refund on such a variety of products, whereas with the beverage container program, you bring in your cans and you paid eight cents and you’re going to get back four, or whatever the numbers may be. Finally, these are durable commodities. You buy your can of soft drink then recycle the container. You buy a TV and have it for 12 or 15 years. So, 15 years from now, you go back to the facility and say you want your $6 refund on a purchase you made 15 years ago. So you can see the problems you’d have administering that kind of program, and the kind of bureaucracy you can create.

GM: What happens to the recycled or reclaimed materials, many of which have some commercial value?

TG: There are two revenue streams for these recycling companies. First, a company like ours would pay a fee to put the materials through a recycling process. Then those things that can be recovered and built into new products are purchased through that stream by the manufacturers. There are some precious metals within that and the philosophy in the manufacturing industry is, if we can get these materials back and build them into computers, for example, then we don’t have to go to a new source for it… and you don’t exhaust your natural resource, in terms of rare metals. But certainly, the business would not exist if it was only to take the products for free and recycle them on the commodities markets. It’s a combination of somebody paying to have it recycled on the front end, and someone paying for the materials on the back end as well.

GM: The fees have become an issue, especially the $42.50 charge on new flat screen TVs.

TG: That fee has drawn the most attention and criticism. The explanation for that is, the size and weight of the kind of legacy materials that have been out there for the last 10, 15, 30 years and more drives the collection and transportation costs significantly. When we have a year or 18 months of data behind us we may have better transportation contracts, perhaps more material coming in with less weight, and that would potentially drive a change in the fee structure. As soon as we can find a way to reduce those fees based on the cost model, then that would be reviewed. The size and weight of the TVs is way out of proportion to everything else and driving the costs significantly. I saw an old floor model TV this morning on a pallet that weighed about 250 pounds, with the stereo unit off to one side. The person who brought that in purchased it perhaps 35 years ago, and now they are finally bringing it into the recycling system. The reality is, there is a lot of stuff coming in that’s 20 or 30 years old. Research shows that it takes about five years to get that old stuff out of the system, meaning that the peak continues for a significant period of time before you see a drop in the tonnage rate of stuff coming in because it’s now newer, rather than older, material.

For more information about the EPRA and its EHF, visit www.recyclemyelectronics.ca/nl.

E-recycling organization reacts to criticism – part 1

16 Dec

By Geoff Meeker

December 16, 2013 – These are tumultuous times for the Environmental Products Recycling Association (EPRA) and its Environmental Handling Fee (EHF), which is levied on the purchase of all new electronics (from $2.50 for portable computers to $42.50 for big-screen TVs, plus HST).

The EHF has come under fire over the last two weeks, first on talk radio, then from politicians – NDP MHA George Murphy, in particular – and then in the news media. There have been a number of complaints and questions about the EPRA and its EHF, so this week I did spoke with EPRA Program Director, Terry Greene, who I first interviewed in early September.  We covered a lot of ground and dealt with a number of accusations. The result was a lot of material, even after editing for length, so I will present this column in two parts.

GM: You must feel some frustration with how things have unfolded in recent days.

TG: Well, it comes with the business. When we launched this program, we knew there would be some consumer concern about fees being charged on new purchases. We also hoped that we’d be able to explain ourselves to people in terms of what the fees are being used for and how we are administering the program. I did (participate in several media interviews) and have been trying to respond to issues, while responding to questions that government may have in response to questions raised in the house.

GM: According to George Murphy, a local business that had been recycling electronics all along for free is out of business and now, here we are paying for the service. Is that correct?

TG: There is at least one small local company in the business of taking computers, or CPUs, from businesses around town. They were charging a fee for that service and doing some manual dismantling at a shop here in St. John’s, to retrieve materials that they then sold to a processor in Quebec. I think that company still exists and is taking materials, but we are still taking end-of-life materials off their hands as well so they are really part of the cycle that we are involved in right now. So the idea that we’re charging a fee while they weren’t (is wrong) – businesses were paying for them to take the material prior to us starting the program.

GM: George Murphy says we should recycle the materials here, rather than in Quebec, to maximize local benefits.

TG: The program that we administer is a highly audited process to ensure that the products that we send to a recycling facility are managed to some very tight standards, first of all in terms of the contaminants that are in the products, like mercury and lead. Secondly, we ensure that it isn’t going downstream to a developing nation. Thirdly, the companies we use have a highly automated process that makes it more cost effective for them to take our material. And the business model that is used in these large recycling facilities, with the amount of end-of-life products that are present in this province, just wouldn’t justify the variety of materials that need to be recycled. We have 100-plus products that will be coming to our collection facilities, which is a very different model than what might be used in collecting some reusable components from computers. Ours is a much more sophisticated model. There are businesses that pay to have their paper and cardboard recycled but it isn’t a business-driven model – it ends up being subsidized, basically. Same thing with tires – there is a levy on all tires that are collected but we don’t have a solution for that within this province either. It’s not that there isn’t a desire to find a solution on the government’s behalf, it’s that the business model isn’t there. Even the companies that we deal with nationally – they were asked whether they would look at a facility in Newfoundland or Atlantic Canada, but the business case just wasn’t there. As much as I would like to see that. But if the business case is not there, we’re not going to invent something or create something that is subsidized by taxpayers.

GM: In his December 3 media release, George Murphy said that electronics were “ostensibly” being recycled, which casts doubt on the validity of your process and even suggests that items aren’t being recycled at all. Where does the recycling take place?

TG: It’s in Valleyfield, Quebec.

GM: Have you considered shooting a video at this facility, showing the various steps of the electronics recycling process, to demonstrate that there is nothing “ostensible” about it?

TG: Coincidentally, most of these electronics recycling companies do have videos already. (Go to YouTube and search for ‘eCycle electronics recycling’.) This stuff is pretty transparent, in that the videos do show what the recycling process is at these facilities. And we are in the process of developing a video now, for the express reason that you just described. We want to make this as transparent as possible. But to respond to the “ostensible” comment that you attributed to Mr. Murphy and possibly others, we have a recycler qualification office whose only job is to audit processing facilities that are used by EPRA, to ensure that they comply with various worker safety codes and manage downstream processes to ensure that materials aren’t diverted to third world countries. There is a highly competent team who constantly monitor this process and our audit materials would probably be made available if somebody made an inquiry about it.

GM: Tell me more about the legislation that is driving these changes.

TG: Each province over the years has been looking at ensuring that as many products as possible can be diverted from the landfill and in the past year, the provincial Department of Environment and the Multi Materials Stewardship Board (MMSB) looked at establishing an extended producer responsibility model within the province, similar to that in other provinces, where retailers and manufacturers of electronic products are required to submit a stewardship plan to government that will demonstrate that they have the capacity to take back end-of-life electronics and ensure that it is responsibly recycled. The legislation was passed in November of 2012, the program was approved in April of 2013 and launched August 1. EPRA – as an umbrella organization – submits a single stewardship plan on behalf of all manufacturers and retailers. Otherwise, every single manufacturer – such as Dell or Toshiba – and every retailer would have to submit an individual stewardship plan.

GM: Why should people care about this? Why should they willingly pay 7.50 extra on a printer or 42.50 on a TV to have it recycled, when they could dispose of it in a landfill for free?

TG: We are talking now about environmental stewardship and awareness on behalf of the general public. In these cases, I invite people to imagine 2500 metric tonnes of electronic products going into the landfill every year in this province. We have the opportunity to divert those 2500 tonnes of materials away from the landfill, retrieve any products that are of value, and remove lead, mercury and other contamination at the same time. Prior to setting up this program we did some research and found that in excess of 80 percent of people said they understood what the benefits would be of recycling electronics, and more than 85 percent said they would be prepared to pay a free for that. Now, the fee wasn’t quoted when they answered that, but there is a recognition on behalf of the public that something has to be done on as many levels as possible to put that puzzle together, to protect the environment and be active recyclers.

In part 2, Mr. Greene deals with suggestions that the EPRA is a mysterious, unaccountable group that could be paying exorbitant salaries to staff and even skimming profits back to manufacturers.

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