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ENVIRONMENT

Too Much E-Waste Ending Up in Landfills

Thursday 21 February 2019, 9:58AM
By Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology
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BAY OF PLENTY

As much as 98 per cent of New Zealand’s household e-waste - electrical and electronic waste – may be ending up in landfills, according to a study.

Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology Sustainability Coordinator Vicktoria Blake conducted the research using  the Whangarei District as a case study.

She says New Zealand produces an estimated 98,000 tonnes of e-waste each year, and the amount is growing up to three times faster than any other type of waste. Despite this, e-waste is still managed through voluntary schemes.

Vicktoria says her study found in Whangarei only 1.8 per cent of e-waste was recycled through municipal services in the district, likely due to the cost to recycle e-waste and the lack of knowledge around the services available. 

The study recommended e-waste be labelled as a priority product under available Government policy, due to its growing volume and potential to cause significant environmental harm.

“Prioritising e-waste would mean that the waste stream would need to be managed under a national mandatory product stewardship scheme.” 

She says the European Union (EU) prioritised e-waste in 1991, and their product stewardship schemes include extending producer responsibilities resulting in producers being required to take more responsibility for each stage of their product’s lifecycle, from creation to disposal.

A further example of product stewardship includes providing services to collect e-waste for recycling.

Vicktoria says the 2017 Global E-waste Monitor, which provides a global overview of the e-waste problem, found that in 2016 Northern Europe achieved an official e-waste collection rate of 49 per cent, whereas New Zealand had an official collection rate of 0 per cent.  

“There are significant benefits from the reduction, reuse, recycling and recovery of e-waste, including reduced environmental and human health impacts at the product creation stage, such as those caused by precious metal mining, and at the end of the product’s life, by way of hazardous substance leakage into the environment.

“Mandating the extension of producer responsibilities, making them responsible for managing the end-of-life stage of their electrical and electronic products, would work to ensure the appropriate management of e-waste, and could even enable wider reaching economic opportunities.”

Vicktoria says the New Zealand Government has the ability to apply similar regulation to that embraced by the EU under the Waste Minimisation Act 2008, however a consultation report found there was insufficient data available to meet the requirements to label e-waste a priority, which would reduce the amount of e-waste that is ending up in landfills.

She says the Whangarei-based study was designed to assist with providing the data this report stated was required.

“Unless we consider prioritising e-waste for product stewardship, the risks of detrimental effects caused by e-waste will continue to rise, and New Zealand could become a literal dumping ground for inferior and end-of-life electronic goods.”

The Whangarei case study was only a snapshot of the e-waste scape in New Zealand, however, it paints a sobering picture of the growing amount of hazardous waste entering our landfills.

Vicktoria completed a Master of Environmental Management graduating with distinction from Massey University.