Mining for gold in computer waste

E-waste responsibility may have to be enforced - minister

Environment Minister Nick Smith sees us mining for gold and other precious materials in the guts of our used computers and televisions.

The price for such commodities is “going through the roof”, he told a launch function in Wellington for a new electronic waste recycling scheme, e-Cycle, and they are too valuable, as well as too polluting, to throw away.

A joint venture between Auckland recycling company RCN and the Community Recycling Network, e-Cycle will provide initially 35 depots to which New Zealanders can take their “e-waste”. The government has made a $1million grant to the effort, from its Waste Minimisation Fund to bolster $400,000 given last year.

The e-Cycle programme takes off from the impetus in awareness provided by the once-a-year voluntary eDay collection, which was declined a grant from the fund this year. E-Cycle will provide a year-round collection service.

RCN director Joe Capizzi says the company will endeavour to recycle as much material from electronic equipment as possible in New Zealand. Glass, metal and some plastics will be able to be processed here, he says, but circuit boards demand specialised handling and will be exported for processing, at least in the short term.

Smith is talking about encouraging “product stewardship” among the producers of equipment – having a scheme to take back their own used equipment for recycling, financed by a loading on the price of the product – and introducing a “national environmental standard” for e-waste. “We have to look at whether there is an advantage in using the obligatory powers of the RMA [Resource Management Act]” to enforce such standards and responsible behaviour, he says.

The e-Cycle scheme, unlike e-Day, will charge owners of used equipment for its service – about $20 for a CRT monitor, for example. “Some people are going to baulk at the idea of making a financial contribution for disposing of their e-waste,” Smith says.

“I say – sorry, but that’s the cost, and these days responsible environmental behaviour is not a free lunch.”