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International report shames NZ's ewaste record

Contributor:
Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

A new United Nations report identifies New Zealand as one of the world’s largest generators of electronic waste (ewaste) and as the only OECD country without any national regulations.

"This ‘naming and shaming’ of New Zealand is not only embarrassing, but also challenges the clean green image we like to promote to the world," said Laurence Zwimpfer, Chair of the eDay New Zealand Trust. "Our Trust has been promoting ewaste solutions for over ten years but this is a reality check about little progress we have actually made."

Every New Zealander currently generates around 20kg of ewaste each year. 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% recycling rate for ewaste in 2016 compared to New Zealand’s ‘official collection rate’ of 0%.

"Being given a score of 0% in the UN 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," said Mr Zwimpfer.

But the business model for recycling ewaste is fragile; unlike common perceptions it is hard to make money from ewaste. New Zealand and Pacific Island countries face more challenges than the much larger European and Asian economies. We do not have the facilities for extracting precious metals from ewaste nor the manufacturing businesses to re-use recycled materials. We incur the additional costs of transport to international markets. Our widely distributed population is a further burden in terms of collecting and transporting ewaste.

The solution adopted by every other developed country lies with industry-led product stewardship schemes with regulatory support from Governments. 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 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 Laurence Zwimpfer, Chair of the eDay NZ Trust. "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," he continued.

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. Together, 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 Mr Zwimpfer.

Research carried out by UMR Research, NZIER and the Wellington Waste Forum over the last 10 years has consistently shown consumer support for a scheme where the cost of recycling is built into the purchase price of new equipment. In 2016, research by the Wellington Waste Forum (a collaborative initiative of local authorities in the lower North Island), revealed that 63% 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.

"So, 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," said Mr Zwimpfer. "We look forward to the new Government making this a priority, as they have already announced for waste tyres."

The Global E-waste Monitor 2017

The Global E-waste Monitor 2017 is a collaborative effort of the United Nations University (UNU), the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA). The 2017 report was published on 13 November 2017.

https://www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Climate-Change/Pages/Global-E-waste-Monitor-2017.aspx

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