As the eDay New Zealand Trust released a comprehensive report into the growing problem of handling the electronic waste (ewaste) produced in New Zealand, the Trust was informed it has been denied a grant by the Ministry for the Environment’s Waste Minimisation fund to help run its annual eDay waste collection drive this year.
The report, Ewaste in New Zealand – Five Years On, suggests among other measures, that the government decline to buy ICT equipment from suppliers who do not recycle.
Trust chair Laurence Zwimpfer claims ministry staff told him the eDay operation was “not value for money. According to them, we cost too much,” he says. “It looks as though they have had other offers, but they would not tell me whose proposal they are funding,” he further claims.
He believes one factor in the ministry’s judgement could have been the Trust’s confidence it could tackle the large anticipated flow of waste cathode-ray tubes (CRTs) arising from the digitisation of television and the falling prices of flat television screens. “They doubted we’d be able to handle that,” he claims.
The government’s “Going Digital” campaign makes it clear that CRT televisions can still be connected to a digital set-top box, but the cost and inconvenience of doing so against the price of a new flat-screen TV, means most people are likely to change, Zwimpfer believes. The switch-off of the analogue television service will therefore add to the existing problem of waste from the ongoing turnover of computers and mobile phones.
After the controversy surrounding eDay 2009, when a contracted recycler turned out not to have the necessary consent under the Basel Convention that vets proper disposal procedures, the ministry set up its own scheme to verify the “chain of custody” of recycled ewaste.
It subsequently supported North Shore Auckland recycler RCN in a year-round programme for disposal of the waste. However, this scheme involves a charge to the disposer of the waste – around $20 for a CRT monitor – while the eDay collection was free.
The eDay scheme does, however, create a difficult once-a-year bulge in waste for recycling, Zwimpfer acknowledges. A better solution is needed, he says.
Since its inception in 2006 the eDay Trust and its predecessor the Computer Access NZ Trust, has campaigned for “product stewardship”, which it continues to push for in this report.
Product stewardship means the manufacturer or importer undertakes to receive product back for recycling, with a small increment in the retail price of the equipment and possible financial help from government covering the cost.
However, in a competitive environment and without government insistence, such schemes have gained little traction, Zwimpfer claims.
Voluntary schemes suffer from a “free-rider” problem, the eDay report claims, where some manufacturers or importers decline to participate in the scheme, but still benefit from the good public profile conferred by overall industry participation.
A spokesman for Environment Minister Nick Smith cites the Basel incident as a major factor in the funding knockback for eDay. This, he says, cost the Ministry for the Environment $500,000. “The Minister was concerned about the risk to New Zealand’s reputation after that incident.”
In addition “the funding request for eDay this year was only for the collection of e-waste, and not its disposal, which was one reason the application wasn’t accepted,” says the minster’s spokesman.
“We need to move beyond just eDay to a permanent solution for New Zealand’s electronic waste where we have the capacity to collect and recycle all year round,” the spokesman adds. “That is why last year under the Waste Minimisation Fund the minister gave a grant of $400,000 for a joint venture between the RCN Group and the Community Recycling Network towards developing a nationwide network of 20 permanent depots for e-waste as well as recycling facilities in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. Implementation of this is well advanced.”
A spokesman for Environment Minister Nick Smith cited a further reason for refusing the eDay Trust a grant under the Waste Minimisation Fund. “An audit into the eDay Trust had also raised concerns about management fees,” the spokesman told Computerworld.
Laurence Zwimpfer says the query related to a standard practice in handling payment for services performed by the 2020 Communications Trust for the eDay 2010 project. That trust billed the eDay Trust $50,000 for managing the event.
This is a standard way that the 2020 Trust derives income, he says – it claims a fee for the projects in which it participates.
This has been done before and has not been questioned, he says; “as far as we were concerned, it was business as usual.”
However, a question was raised in a “mid-point audit” of the project in December 2010 and the two trusts tendered an explanation.
This went into a report to the minister; the trusts heard no more and assumed the explanation had been accepted. Zwimpfer says he is puzzled that the minister’s spokesman should have raised the point again last week.
Zwimpfer says the eDay Trust accepts that the Ministry for the Environment wants to move on from the yearly eDay model to a plan for year-round collection and recycling of electronic waste. “I guess this [mention of the management fee query] gives them one more reason to support that move.”
The eDay Trust is still considering an event this year. “We’re not sure that we will be able to stitch one together,” Zwimpfer says, “but we haven’t given up.”
The trust is talking with one of its regular recyclers, Tes-Amm, and with community supporters regarding a joint effort.
It could be as late as September before a go/no-go decision can be made on the event, Zwimpfer says.