Computerworld

Government moves to deal with e-waste: again, and again

Fourth such initiative in the past 15 years
  • Stuart Corner (Computerworld New Zealand)
  • 12 August, 2019 08:52

The government has released a consultation document aimed at minimising a wide range of waste products, including e-waste. It is the fourth such initiative in the past 15 years, and almost identical to one in 2014.

The consultation paper: Proposed priority products and priority product stewardship scheme guidelines, bears a title almost identical to that of one issued in 2014: Priority waste streams for product stewardship intervention: a discussion document.

The eDay Trust, a body created in 2010 to address the growing challenge of e-waste, welcomed the initiative but said action should have been taken much earlier.

According to the trust, a 2017 United Nations report identified New Zealand as one of the world’s largest generators of electronic waste and the only OECD country without any national regulations.

In the wake of the report the trust called on the government to make a national e-waste recycling scheme a priority.

In September 2017 it released an eWaste Manifesto that called on all political parties to support a strong and sustainable plan for reduce the amount of electronic waste ending up in landfill.  Its key recommendation was for the development of industry-led product stewardship scheme with regulatory support from government.

The latest consultation paper proposes an eight-week period for comment on what the priority products should be and then a further two years of consultation on proposed regulations.

eDay Trust chair Laurence Zwimpfer, said: “This is an excellent signal of the Government’s commitment to product stewardship, but we are disappointed the process is going to take so long.

“There have been three prior consultations in 2005, 2009 and 2014. All identified electronic waste as a priority product. So it would have been nice to skip this step and get on with the most important task of developing regulations…

“Given the amount of effort already invested by industry groups … [we] call on the minister to shorten up this timeframe and set a fixed date for product stewardship schemes to be implemented.”

New Zealand introduced a Waste Minimisation Act in 2008 but in her foreword to the consultation document, associate minister for the environment Eugenie Sage said voluntary efforts by industry and community leaders to minimise waste had diverted only a minority of waste from landfill.

“Business and community voices are telling us it is time for more decisive action,” she said.

The consultation document declares the priority products being targeted (tyres, agrichemicals, refrigerants, e-waste, farm plastics and packaging) and sets common guidelines for schemes dealing with those products.

It proposes a two stage process toward regulated waste disposal. Stage one “consults on the proposed declaration of six priority products and ministerial guidelines to clarify expected outcomes and attributes of accredited priority products schemes.”

Waste disposal déjà vu

Stage two (not covered by the consultation paper) would see the government “consult progressively by product group through 2019–21 on proposed … regulations.

Sage said this further consultation would “outline details of the schemes co-designed with stakeholders.”

This further process will also cover “any potential regulations to ‘level the playing field’ and provide appropriate waste reduction incentives, on a priority product-by-product basis.”

The proposed two stage process is almost identical to that set out in the 2014 paper. Its priority products were: electrical and electronic equipment tyres; agricultural chemicals and farm plastics; refrigerants and other synthetic greenhouse gases.

In her foreword to that document the then minister for the environment, Amy Adams, said the first step was only to “seek feedback on whether we should go further and whether we have picked the right products.”

A second step would “consider in detail a range of options … [including] close analysis of short-term and long-term economic, environmental and social costs and benefits, and consultation with potentially affected parties.”

She said only after that would the Government consider possible intervention.