As technology progresses, electronic devices become obsolete, which means up to 50 million tonnes of ‘e-waste’ is thrown out worldwide each year.
E-waste.org.nz is a charitable trust in Auckland that processes some of this waste, taking upwards of 200 tonnes a year.
E-waste.org.nz trustee Vernon Sutton says they take around 350 different types of electronic goods.
“We’ve been operating for eight years. Before we used to deal more with desktop computers and cathode ray tube televisions but now it’s tablets and flat screens,” Vernon says.
The trust takes the goods and distributes them to appropriate centres where they can be processed and either recycled or fixed and resold.
E-waste contains a lot of valuable materials and some of these, such as lead, can currently only be processed overseas.
Vernon says all collection centres should be certified before taking e-waste and currently only one in New Zealand is certified to deal with batteries.
“Unfortunately, there are a number operating in Auckland that don’t have these certificates, so people need to make sure they check that out when dropping off e-waste.”
Vernon believes the absence of certification and a lack of government and council support for e-waste solutions is contributing to New Zealand being the worst recycler among OECD countries.
“A lot of uncertified collection places are actually sending waste to landfill and council is putting a lot of pressure on community-led initiatives that are good, but they rely on volunteers who aren’t always knowledgeable about e-waste.”
A number of products are not straightforward for centres to deal with, including batteries and electrical plastics.
Tailor Made technician Richard Browning says there are plenty of valuable materials on a computer’s circuit board such as copper and gold.
Electrical plastics are found in items such as toasters. They contain chemicals to stop the plastic melting, which makes them hard to process once they are thrown out.
“Many people don’t realise there are many types of battery and some can combust by themselves due to the chemicals inside once disposed,” Vernon says.
E-waste holds around 30 collection days across Auckland per year, which allow people to dispose of any e-waste for free, bar a few items.
“Not only do you reduce waste, but you also allow minerals to be recycled so people in third world conditions don’t have to mine for them,” Vernon says.
E-waste is currently looking to hold an e-day in Warkworth within the next six months and is seeking feedback on the idea.
To comment or learn more about e-waste, visit ewaste.org.nz/welcome/main
Tailor Made in Warkworth will take any old computers and accessories, either sending them to the appropriate processing plant or fixing them to be given away.
Technician Richard Browning says a big concern with dropping e-waste is exposing personal data.
“For $10, we can do a complete override that will erase your data. If you are really cautious, we can do seven overrides to US Department of Defense standards,” he says.
Once goods have been collected, those discarding them have two days to reclaim them before they are processed and the valuable materials are taken.
“If the item is less than four years old, but not cost effective for someone to get repaired, we will fix it for free and donate the item to a primary school or Hestia Women’s Refuge in Orewa.”
Vodafone Warkworth takes part in a nationwide phone disposal initiative RE:MOBILE. This means any phone can be dropped off in a box at the shop in Warkworth. About 10 to 15 are disposed of this way each week.
Money raised from recycling the valuable materials from the phones is then given to Sustainable Coastlines.
Since RE:MOBILE started in 2009, over one million phones have been collected and over $2.5 million donated to charities.
Meanwhile, The Camera Shop owner Colin Stables has taken up the idea of repairing cameras from as early as the 1950s to sell, rather than throwing them out.
“For people who want something different, the older cameras are very cool and still take great photos,” Colin says.
He has also started to accept camera batteries of any type that he will be disposing of at a certified processing plant.
A government view on e-waste
Associate environment minister Eugenie Sage says e-waste disposal is an issue on an international level and believes the problems start when goods are made.
“E-waste is a growing problem and is projected to increase from 19kg per person to more than 25kg per person by 2030,” Ms Sage says.
“Companies need to design products so their components can be easily recovered and reused at the end of the product’s life.”
Ms Sage is looking at the possibility of mandatory product stewardship whereby every party involved in the lifecycle of an electronic item ensures it is recycled.
For the government’s 2014 commissioned report on e-waste product stewardship, visit mfe.govt.nz/publications/waste/e-waste-product-stewardship-framework-new-zealand