The eDay Trust — a community initiative to raise awareness of ewaste hazards and the benefits of recycling computers —has called on the new Government to make a national ewaste recycling scheme a priority.
Its call follows publication of the International Telecommunication Union’s Global E-waste Monitor 2017 which the trust says has identified New Zealand as one of the world’s largest generators of electronic waste and the only OECD country without any national ewaste regulations.
eDay Trust chair, Laurence Zwimpfer, said: “In 2016, research by the Wellington Waste Forum (a collaborative initiative of local authorities in the lower North Island), revealed that 63 percent of New Zealanders would be happy to pay as much as $30 extra for new electronic equipment if there was an assurance the equipment would be recycled responsibly at end of life.
“Given this consumer preference and the high cost to government of supporting short-term recycling initiatives, we can’t understand why the previous Government did not want to work with industry to solve this problem once and for all. We look forward to the new Government making this a priority.
According to the report, in 2014, the Ministry of Environment contracted a private organisation to develop a product stewardship framework for managing ewaste in New Zealand.
“This organisation undertook a comprehensive stakeholder engagement and consultation, together with collection and analysis of e-waste data, to develop recommendations for an ewaste stewardship option for New Zealand,” the report said.
“It is understood that the New Zealand government is still considering these various options to decide on a particular scheme. They are also closely monitoring the success of the Australian scheme.
“In addition to the above task, the New Zealand government has developed comprehensive guidelines for collection, reuse, and recycling of the waste of electrical and electronic equipment. These guidelines are targeted towards good management of health, safety, and environmental issues when reusing or recycling e-waste.”
Zwimpfer said the ITU’s ‘naming and shaming’ of New Zealand “is not only embarrassing, but also challenges the clean green image we like to promote to the world. Our Trust has been promoting ewaste solutions for over ten years but this is a reality check about little progress we have actually made.”
According to the report every New Zealander generates around 20kg of ewaste each year and the official collection rate is zero percent.
“While some other countries have slightly higher per capita volumes, this is mitigated by the existence of national ewaste collection and recycling schemes. For example, Europe leads the world, achieving a 49 percent recycling rate for ewaste in 2016,” Zwimpfer said.
He added: “Being given a score of zero percent in the [ITU] report is a bit unfair as there are some New Zealand recyclers who are doing a fantastic job diverting ewaste from landfills. But these are typically charities or recyclers with a social conscience. Remarkit in Wellington is a good example.
“Nine years ago the Government legislated a framework for product stewardship schemes as part of the Waste Minimisation Act 2008, but has failed to progress any sustainable scheme for consumer ewaste.
“The one exception has been for mobile phones. Spark, Vodafone and 2degrees have joined together for the RE:Mobile product stewardship scheme; these companies accept unwanted mobile phones at their retail stores and then arrange for the phones to be refurbished or recycled. The scheme is so successful that profits from the sale of equipment are helping to support Sustainable Coastlines, an NGO promoting clean water.”
Since 2006, the eDay Trust (and its predecessor, the Computer Access New Zealand Trust) has advocated for a sector-wide product stewardship scheme for all ewaste to be put in place. This, it says, would mean that the cost of recycling is built into the price of new products so that New Zealanders can recycle responsibly at no extra cost when the equipment reaches end of life.
“This is effective in all OECD countries except New Zealand,” said Zwimpfer. “As a country, we have dropped the ball, as the ITU report points out. What we need is a permanent and sustainable solution, and this now needs some urgent action by Government.”
The Government has supported a number of short-term ewaste collection and recycling initiatives. These have included the annual eDay computer collection events from 2006 to 2010, the RCN e-Cycle scheme from 2010 to 2014 and the TV Takeback programme from 2012-2014.
According to the eDay Trust these activities over 10 years have diverted around 800,000 electronic devices from landfills at a cost to the Government of around $20 million (or $25 per device). But during the same 10 years an estimated 10 million new computers and TVs were sold in New Zealand.
“None of these initiatives has resulted in a long-term sustainable solution. The volumes of new electronic equipment are expanding at 10 times the rate of current recycling efforts,” said Zwimpfer.