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Growing problem demands solution

Product stewardship scheme could lead to less e-waste in landfills
SHIFT TO RESPONSIBLE RECYCLING: E-waste that cannot be recycled largely heads to landfill. File picture

by Matai O’Connor

When you are finished with an electronic product, what do you do with it?

Plenty of people are keen to recyle their e-waste but in Gisborne there is nowhere to take it.

The Ministry for the Environment (MfE) declared electrical and electronic products a “priority product” under the Waste Minimisation Act in July last year. This means a product stewardship scheme must be developed and accredited to manage those products at the end of their life.

It also allows passing a regulation that will require sellers of those products to follow such schemes.

MfE is currently preparing the first group of regulations for these priority products for public consultation.

One group in Gisborne who tries to recycle e-waste, the Recycled Teenagers Recycling Group, said they are still operating after starting early last year but have found issues with recycling e-waste.

Earlier attempts by the Government to offer free collection of e-waste for recycling without a regulatory framework to cover recycling costs, like e-Day and TV Takeback, did not succeed.

MfE is currently supporting co-design of product stewardship schemes for e-waste and large electric vehicle batteries with key stakeholders.

Overseas, where such schemes are in place, the cost to properly recycle the products is covered by the producers who are required to meet recycling targets. Examples can be found in Europe, Canada, Japan, South Korea and Australia.

E-waste that cannot be recycled largely goes to landfill.

It is estimated that less than 2 percent of all e-waste in New Zealand is recycled.

Many councils and some private collectors offer collection services for selected products.

Private e-waste recyclers will most often collect computers, mobile phones and digital flatscreen TVs, as prices are reasonably good for refurbished goods and their components, which contain valuable metals.

These markets are mostly overseas. The parts they cannot sell usually go to the landfill.

This is what MfE wants to change with a move to regulated product stewardship.

Ron Taylor, a member of the Recycled Teenagers, said they tend to have trouble getting e-waste which has value.

The group began recycling e-waste last year and they have been able to donate $500 to two local charities from the money made from selling valuable metals in the electronics.

“Things like cellphones, tablets, Apple computers and printers have little value in them and are, effectively, not worth the effort,” Mr Taylor said.

“Electric jugs and similar small appliances are only valuable if made of alloy. Laptops do not offer up much and are quite labour intensive to dismantle.

“The big old TVs with a cathode ray tube in them offer copper wire.

“However, problems in getting rid of the tube makes them uneconomical, plus the large pieces of plastic they are housed in have no value. We no longer take them for these reasons.”

A lot of the “feel good”, e-waste programmes you see on TV are in bigger countries or bigger cities,” he said.

“They have an economy of scale, which means that recovering gold from circuit boards becomes economical,” he said.