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E-Waste Explained: What Is It, Its Environmental Impact and What You Can Do

By Julie Hall, Free Geek Toronto volunteer.

What’s E-Waste?

E-waste, or electronic waste, refers to discarded or end-of-life electronic devices. 

E-waste includes mobiles, laptops/desktops, and computer accessories, such as keyboards and speakers. It can also include televisions, digital cameras, or even lightbulbs; any item that requires electricity to operate.

Why is e-waste an issue? 

E-waste can be problematic due to how electronic devices are manufactured, and then disposed of. 

Manufacturing electronic devices 

Electronic devices are made from a mix of many materials, including gold, silver, copper, lithium, and cobalt. Manufacturing these devices includes extensive mining to acquire these materials, creating often negative impacts on the environment and communities where extractions occur.

Disposing e-waste 

When disposed of properly, e-waste can have minimal environmental impact. However, only 20% of e-waste is properly dismantled and recycled. As e-waste contains hazardous chemicals and toxic heavy metals, these improperly disposed of items can then leak into soil and the water supply with a detrimental impact on the surrounding environment and food production.

From a global perspective, e-waste can also impact developing and low-income countries more severely, as developed countries frequently export their e-waste to developing countries.

Developing countries may lack regulations and resources to manage this imported e-waste, with people working at e-waste recycling plants often lacking the protective equipment to handle these dangerous materials and may also inhale dangerous fumes. Canada has contributed to this issue by exporting our e-waste to the Philippines.

This issue of e-waste is growing; e-waste volumes are increasing globally with the Global E-waste Statistics Partnership (GESP) indicating that e-waste has surged by 21% from 2012 to 2019. E-waste from 2020 weighed as much as 350 cruise ships placed end-to-end.

What can we do about e-waste?

Addressing the issue of e-waste is complex, involving many stakeholders from manufacturers, governments, to global organisations. 

Globally, there are several frameworks aimed at addressing e-waste. The Basel Convention, ratified by Canada in 1992, aims to reduce e-waste production, as well as ensure e-waste is disposed of close to the source of generation. This convention bans countries from exporting their e-waste to another country.

Locally, the Resource Productivity and Recovery Authority (RPRA) regulates e-waste in Ontario with the aim to keep resources in the economy as long as possible. Through administering the Resource Recovery and Circular Economy Act, RPRA ensures that producers are individually accountable and financially responsible for their products and packaging once consumers dispose of them.

As individual consumers, we can all take a few steps to help reduce e-waste: 

  • Consume less: although we all understand the allure of a new device, think thoughtfully about whether you need a new electronics device. Research the options of any new device to ensure it’s an item that will fit your life for the long term. 
  • Extend the life of your devices: take care of your current devices by using protective cases, keeping the device clean, installing antivirus software, and installing software updates frequently. 
  • Buy second hand: need a new keyboard or mice? Buy second hand items to reduce the production of new items. Be sure to check out items at the Free Geek Toronto shop.

Recycle: if your electronic device has reached its end-of-life, recycle your devices at an e-waste recycling facility. You can find your closest e-waste recycling facility here. You can also donate your items to Free Geek Toronto. Anything that can’t be refurbished and sold by Free Geek Toronto is properly recycled if the materials allow for it.

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Software Spotlight: 3 Free Open-Source Office Suite Programs

By Courtney Evers, Free Geek Toronto volunteer

Now that you have picked up your Linux computer from Free Geek Toronto, it’s time to talk about software!

In this Software Spotlight, we’ll be looking at three free options for office suites that can replace Microsoft Office — collections of software that include a word processor, a spreadsheet program, and a presentation program. For those who may not know what is in an office suite, or just need a reminder, here is the breakdown for the main three components:

  • A word processor allows you to create, edit and print documents
  • A spreadsheet program allows you to to organize data, perform calculations, determine things like percentages and averages, and analyze and store data, and create charts from that data
  • A presentation program allows to to create a presentation slide show with text, images, videos, and audio, etc.

While the Microsoft Office Suite is arguably the most well-know office suite program out there, and it works on the Linux operating system, the cost of the 2021 Office Home and Student software is $149.99, and the Office Home and Business software is $249.99.

By using any of the following Open Source alternatives, you get all the usability and features that you need, but at the low cost of FREE, while also supporting open source software. In addtion, all of these alternative office suites have the ability to save documents in many different formats, including those that are compatible with the Microsoft Office file formats. This means that if you need to send a Microsoft Word .docx document to your school or employer, you can be assured that it will work with the software that they are using.

LibreOffice

LibreOffice split off from the OpenOffice suite in 2010 and is supported by the non-profit organization The Document Foundation which promotes free, open-source software with a focus on document handling. According to www.openhub.net, there are 213 current contributors active in developing, maintaining and updating this office suite. LibreOffice is the largest open-source office suite, with 200 active million users.

What it comes with:

There are currently 390 extensions available for you to customize your suite, from document templates, to timestamp based backup, colour management tools, map creators and more! LibreOffice currently supports 115 languages, and has a host of volunteers around the world working on developing different features, creating spellcheck and grammar check, creating documentation and providing user support.

You can download LibreOffice for Linux, MacOS and Windows here.

Apache OpenOffice

Apache OpenOffice is supported by the Apache Software Foundation, one of the world’s largest open source, volunteer based communities. It has over 20 years of open source development, is used by millions of people around the world and currently has 11 active contributors. You can see that it has the same types of programs with the same names as LibreOffice, which makes sense at they were at one time developed in the same project.

What it comes with:

There are currently 718 extensions that you can use with the Linux operating system, from language packages to music diagram writers, clipart packages, colour management and more. There are also currently 1745 templates between the Calc, Draw, Impress and Writer programs, and 52 languages supported, although some of those languages are currently outdated.

You can download OpenOffice for Linux, MacOS and Windows here.

Calligra

Calligra is a free open source office suite supported by KDEev, a non-profit international community that develops free and open-source software, and currently has 17 active contributors. Although it doesn’t have a math program, it does include a Project Management application, as well as a program that combines the word processor Words and the presentation software Stage, allowing users to switch between a computer interface and tablet interface with ease.

What it comes with:

There are currently 77 language teams working on various languages to create localized versions, and an easy web interface to report bugs.

You can download Calligra Suite for Linux, MacOS and Windows here.

Now that you have a rundown of each of the three office suites, take a look at the links, see which one might be best suited to your needs, and if you need more support in learning various tips and tricks to using them, check out YouTube for video tutorials, or the documentation and user forums on each of their respective sites.

 

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3 Open-Source Leaders to Recognize on International Women’s Day

By: Julie Hall, Free Geek Toronto volunteer

International Women’s Day is today!

To foster a world that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive, International Women’s Day celebrates women’s achievements.

Free Geek Toronto would like to honour women-identified people in open source to commemorate International Women’s Day. Read below to learn more!

Megan (Byrd) Sanicki

Meagan has served as the Executive Director at Drupal Association, and has recently been the Manager of Research and Operations at Google’s Open Source Program Office. Megan also utilises an open source philosophy in her personal life with her volunteer work with Covid Act Now, an open source group providing data modelling to assist public officials in making informed decisions quickly.

Megan encourages others to participate in open source, saying that “Every contributor to open source is a leader, whether they’re leading others, leading the community, or just leading themselves. Don’t wait to be given permission and own your awesome.”

Netha Hussain

Netha describes herself as “Researcher. Medical doctor. Writer. Open knowledge enthusiast. Ailurophile. Woman.” Netha studied medicine at the Government Medical College in India, as well as completed a PhD in clinical neuroscience at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden. Volunteering in the Wikimedia movement since 2010, Netha has contributed to over 300 articles pertaining to healthcare and issues related to women.

Netha explains that “I find myself writing on topics that are important to women because I feel they are an underserved community, and it is important to me that Wikipedia, as such a vital repository of information, be reflective of all users, all voices.”

Nithya Ruff

Nithya has served on the Linux Foundation board for 5 1/2 years, and currently holds the role of Vice President of the Open Source Program Office at Comcast. In her current role, Nithya drives the strategy to open source industry and advise across over 200 projects, as well as mentors start-ups as part of Comcast incubation program.

Nithya explains her interest in open source, saying “It’s collaborative, open, transparent development. It empowers developers–and everybody!–to study software, at no charge, and to modify… and contribute back to it.”

There are many women in open source! Know a woman-identified person in open source that you’d like to recognize? Follow Free Geek Toronto on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram and let us know!

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Why Free And Open Source?

Ever like being locked out? Probably not.

That’s why we at Free Geek Toronto like to keep things open – especially our software. Open celebrates community, transparency, and collective engagement. Open means embracing everyone and anyone.

When is software not open source?

Let’s get a bit technical – open-source software is software with source code that users can inspect and change. The source code is the side of software that most of us never see – but modifying this code is how programmers change the way an application or a program work. If you know how to manipulate the source code, you can fix things you don’t like and add new features that you wish were there.

There are two sides to every story. When the source code of software can only be modified exclusively by the person, company, or team that created it, we have proprietary software (sometimes called closed source software). Only one governing body has a say over the source code, so a user can’t add features or fix any problems they encounter. In order to use proprietary software, users must agree to use the software within the bounds of what the creators have permitted. Often, users must agree to the terms of a license document that pops up the first time they run the program. Think about those long ‘Terms of Use’ documents that always pop up.

With open-source software, the creators make the source code available for users to modify and learn from it, while proprietary software requires users to operate under a set of rules. The “free” in Free Geek stands for freedom and we stand behind accessible, open software.

Advantages of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS)

Security – FOSS is ultimately more secure for a few simple reasons: more people are able to view the source code, test it and find the bugs hidden within it. Even better, FOSS is typically debugged almost immediately, whereas debugged versions of proprietary software generally roll out slower.

Quality – Thousands of people are collaborating and improving a software’s source code results with a program that is true to what people want (they ARE the ones designing it).

Transparency – Users have access to it all – no secrets, no following a vendor’s vision. You understand what you’re working with and there’s no red tape.

Customizability – One of the coolest things about FOSS is that users can add features and modify the software to build their own ideas. No limits!

GNU

The Free Software Foundation (FSF) is the official sponsor of the GNU Operating System and they are leaders in the conversation around Free and Open Source Software. The development of the GNU license made it possible for free software to exist. A “Linux distribution” is, in fact, a Linux/GNU distribution it is the Linux kernel along with a variety of the FOSS/GNU software running the show. Many of its users are not aware of this.

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