What are Canadians doing with their old cell phones and computers?

Background

Repairing damaged cell phones and computers has become
increasingly challenging in recent years as devices have become smaller and
more complex in nature. Common problems such as cracked screens and dead
batteries can lead consumers to replace damaged or dead devices rather than
repairing them because the costs of the two options can often be similar, if
repairing is even an option.

While all cell phones have batteries in them, replacing
these batteries is no longer the straightforward proposition that it used to
be. Although there are still some models of cell phones for which the battery can
be easily replaced, many of the models available today require specialized
tools and training to replace them, assuming that the batteries and tools are
even readily available. (Rosborough, 2021)

The inability to easily repair devices like cell phones
means that consumers are left with few options other than to replace them
with new ones, resulting in the old devices needing to be disposed of. Because
of the materials they contain, they cannot be disposed of in the waste stream
and instead need to be treated as a form of hazardous waste and disposed of
using a special program.

In response to this situation,
grassroots movements advocating for the right to repair have emerged in
countries and legislation has been proposed,Note  Note  and in some
cases passed, in some jurisdictions requiring manufacturers to make devices
easier for users to service and to make replacement parts, tools and repair
manuals available and affordable.Note 

As part of its goal to support a transition to a more
circular economy, the Government of Canada has embarked on a number of
initiatives, including a national strategy to encourage the development of
value-retention processes for products in Canada.Note Note  Value-retention
processes include remanufacturing, refurbishment, repair and reuse as ways of
prolonging the length of time a product remains in the economy and reducing the
volume of products that enter the waste stream.

In November 2021, Apple announced the creation of a
self-service repair program in response to pressure from grassroots
right-to-repair groups.Note 
Initially available in the United Stated starting in 2022, the program allows owners
of recent model cellular phones made by Apple to make common repairs such as
displays and batteries. People using the program will have the option of
returning the old parts for credit.

A public opinion survey conducted in 2019 reveals that,
overall, 75% of Canadians would support right-to-repair legislation. (Innovative Research Group, 2019) According to the report, the more familiar people were
with the policy, the higher their level of support.

In 2010, a cell phone in Canada was typically owned for
about 33 months before being replaced by its owner. (Entner, 2013) In the years
leading up to that point in time, the average time between replacements was
increasing. (Chart 1) It is, of course, important to remember that this is an
average and that some people hold on to their devices for much longer than
that.

Data table for Chart 1













Data table for Chart 1

Table summary

This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 1 months (appearing as column headers).

months
2007 29.5
2008 30.8
2009 31.8
2010 33.0



Canadian statistics

Statistics Canada’s Households and the Environment Survey is
conducted on a biennial basis and examines the environmental practices of
Canadian households. Included in the content of the survey since the 2009 cycle
have been questions that ask respondent households about whether they had
certain types of e-waste, including cell phones and computers, and how they
disposed of these devices.

Cell phones

The Survey of Household Spending reveals that while
virtually all Canadian households (99.1%) (Chart 2) reported having some type of
telephone, only 54% reported having a landline telephone in 2019, down from
71.9% in 2015.Note 
Households reporting having at least one cell phone has increased from 86.1% in
2015 to 91.3% in 2019.Note 
About 70.1% of households reported having one or two cell phones in 2019, while
21.1% reported having three or more of the devices.Note 

Data table for Chart 2















Data table for Chart 2

Table summary

This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 2 Households having a telephone (landline or cellular), Households having landline telephone service, Households having cellular telephones, Households having 1 cellular telephone, Households having 2 cellular telephones and Households having 3 or more cellular telephones, calculated using percentage of households units of measure (appearing as column headers).

Households having a telephone (landline or cellular) Households having landline telephone service Households having cellular telephones Households having 1 cellular telephone Households having 2 cellular telephones Households having 3 or more cellular telephones
percentage of households
2015 99.3 71.9 86.1 35.0 33.7 17.5
2016 99.3 66.8 87.9 35.4 33.7 18.8
2017 99.0 63.3 89.4 34.6 34.4 20.4
2018 Note ..: not available for a specific reference period Note ..: not available for a specific reference period Note ..: not available for a specific reference period Note ..: not available for a specific reference period Note ..: not available for a specific reference period Note ..: not available for a specific reference period
2019 99.1 54.0 91.3 34.0 36.1 21.4



As can be seen in Chart 3, over the past decade, about 19%
of Canadian households have reported having a cell phone to dispose of. There
was a slight peak of about 21% in 2013 and 2015, but the rate has been holding
steady at about 17% since 2017.

Data table for Chart 3















Data table for Chart 3

Table summary

This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 3 Had unwanted cellphones to dispose of, calculated using percentage of households units of measure (appearing as column headers).

Had unwanted cellphones to dispose of
percentage of households
2011 18
2013 21
2015 21
2017 17
2019 17



The proportion of households that reported repairing or
selling unwanted cell phones has been very low since Statistics Canada started
collecting data on this topic, but it has been trending upwards since 2011. (Chart 4)

Disposal of unwanted cell phones

Donating or giving away unwanted cell phones is another
method by which a household can rid itself of the unwanted devices. Since 2011, the proportion of households that had an unwanted cell phone that
reported doing this increased from 8% to 11%. (Chart 4)

While the Households and the Environment Survey doesn’t ask
respondents for the number of unwanted cell phones they had, it is possible to
make some inferences into the number of devices based on the number of disposal
methods used. A limitation of this, of course, is that a household may have had
more than one unwanted cell phone but used the same disposal method for all of
them.

Retention of unwanted cell phones

Some households hold on to unwanted cell phones for any
number of reasons, such as waiting for a household hazardous waste drop-off day
or intending to sell them or give them away.

Data table for Chart 4















Data table for Chart 4

Table summary

This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 4 Repaired or sold and Donated or gave them away, calculated using percentage of households units of measure (appearing as column headers).

Repaired or sold Donated or gave them away
percentage of households
2011 1 8
2013 2 9
2015 2 9
2017 4 9
2019 5 11



Computers

According to the Survey of Households Spending, in
2019, 83.2% of Canadian households reported having a computer.Note  The rate of
ownership has remained fairly steady since 2015, when 84.5% of households
reported having a computer, dropping to 84.1% in 2016.Note  (Chart 5)

Data table for Chart 5















Data table for Chart 5

Table summary

This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 5 Households having a home computer, Households having Internet use from home, Households having regular telephone Internet connection to a computer, Households having high-speed telephone Internet connection to a computer, Households having cable Internet connection to a computer, Households having wireless Internet connection and Households having other types of Internet connection, calculated using percentage of households units of measure (appearing as column headers).

Households having a home computer Households having Internet use from home Households having regular telephone Internet connection to a computer Households having high-speed telephone Internet connection to a computer Households having cable Internet connection to a computer Households having wireless Internet connection Households having other types of Internet connection
percentage of households
2015 84.5 86.9 3.0 25.9 42.0 17.4 3.1
2016 84.1 87.4 3.4 25.2 42.0 18.7 2.9
2017 84.1 89.0 3.5 26.1 43.7 17.5 3.1
2018 Note ..: not available for a specific reference period Note ..: not available for a specific reference period Note ..: not available for a specific reference period Note ..: not available for a specific reference period Note ..: not available for a specific reference period Note ..: not available for a specific reference period Note ..: not available for a specific reference period
2019 83.2 91.0 2.5 26.5 46.0 18.0 3.5



While the level of ownership has remained fairly stable over
the last few years, the trend of the rate at which households have reported
having unwanted computers to dispose of is negative, suggesting that Canadian
households may be using their computers longer than they did in the past.

When they do have a computer to dispose of, however, they
tend not to put them in the garbage. As can be seen in Chart 6, only 3% of
households that had an unwanted computer in 2019 did this. Instead, the
majority of households with unwanted computers took them to a depot or drop-off
site, an option that has been increasing since 2011.

Data table for Chart 6















Data table for Chart 6

Table summary

This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 6 Had unwanted computers to dispose of, Repaired or sold computers, Garbage, Depot or drop-off and Return to retailer/supplier, calculated using percentage of households units of measure (appearing as column headers).

Had unwanted computers to dispose of Repaired or sold computersData table for Chart 6 Note 1 GarbageData table for Chart 6 Note 1 Depot or drop-offData table for Chart 6 Note 1 Return to retailer/supplierData table for Chart 6 Note 1
percentage of households
2011 23 Note F: too unreliable to be published 3 52 7
2013 24 1 3 53 8
2015 26 1 3 56 9
2017 20 1 2 58 9
2019 16 2 3 63 9



Conclusion

When an electronic device, such as a cell phone or computer,
becomes damaged or reaches the end of its useful life, users are faced with the
question of whether to repair the device or replace it. Data from Statistics
Canada suggest that Canadian households are retaining their cell phones and
computers longer in recent years than they were a decade ago, as evidenced by a
decrease in the proportion of households having one of these devices to dispose
of while ownership levels have remained fairly steady.

Grassroots movements advocating for the consumer’s right to
be able to repair devices using official parts, tools and instructions have
appeared during the last few years. Some jurisdictions have implemented
proposed or implemented legislation requiring manufacturers to design their
devices to be repairable and at least one manufacturer has announced an
authorized self-repair service that will launch in 2022.

In Canada, private member’s Bill C-272 was favourably received
in Parliament in June 2021,Note 
but it died on the order paper with the election in the fall of 2021.

Innovative
Research Group. (2019). Right to Repair National Online Omnibus Survey.
Vancouver: OpenMedia. Retrieved August 3, 2021, from https://openmedia.org/sites/openmedia.org/files/openmedia_right_to_repair_omnibus_questions_report_-_20190531.pdf

Rosborough,
A. (2021, May 14). Canada needs right-to-repair legislation. Policy Options.
Retrieved August 03, 2021, from https://policyoptions.irpp.org/magazines/may-2021/canada-needs-right-to-repair-legislation/

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