NZ needs to get real on e-waste

New Zealand looks like it might be engulfed by a growing mountain of electronic waste.
Written by Darren Greenwood, Contributor

New Zealand looks like it might be engulfed by a growing mountain of electronic waste.

As Australia passes a Product Stewardship Bill that aims to boost recycling, the New Zealand Government says it won't fund our annual eDay.

eDay has operated for some years. It sees volunteers, with local and central government support, running annual collections for the e-waste.

After collection, the waste is then usually shipped off to China, where it is supposedly recycled.

But this year, the New Zealand Government has said that such an event offers poor value for money and it doubts if the organisers, the eDay New Zealand Trust, will be able to cope with this year's expected deluge.

As I posted last week, New Zealand faces a deluge of e-waste thanks to the country's TV networks going digital. In addition, Telecom NZ switching off CDMA means a million or more mobile phone handsets will also be scrapped.

We hear talk of a "toxic crisis" or an "e-waste crisis".

The organisers of eDay are rightfully unhappy.

If eDay doesn't go ahead, the organisers are also supporters of product stewardship — producers agreeing to take back a product once the owner no longer has a use for it. I have some issues with this concept.

Yes, voluntary product stewardship schemes (many of which are already in operation; for example, Vodafone having a phone bin in its shops) might work, but forcing HP or any other retailer to take back old computers and tellies might push up the costs of new products too much.

And I doubt expecting consumers to pay $20 to dump an old telly or computer is realistic either. I have seen councils exacerbate the problem of illegal waste dumping by imposing user-pays charges at waste depots.

No, we have to get real and accept that many people aren't willing to pay to be environmentally friendly.

That means there must be government funding for eDay and funding for accepting and recycling e-waste. That way the costs fall on all of us collectively through local rates and national taxation. The government has already been creating specialist centres where TVs, computers and the like can be left for recycling.

Looking at the detail of Australia's legislation, although the IT and TV industry in Australia will be stumping up some funding, it does seem that the first of the schemes, affecting televisions and computers, is more of a partnership than a dictatorship. This is positive, as it shares the burden of our electronic consumerism. Hopefully, such services will also have some of their costs offset by stripping the waste's valuable gold and copper.

Although I still hope that money can be found for eDay in New Zealand, perhaps as in other things, it is time to look to Australia for a way to reduce our e-waste mountain.

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