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98% of household electronic waste may end up in landfills

As much as 98% of New Zealand’s household electrical and electronic waste – or “e-waste" – may end up in landfills, according to recent research which used the Whangarei District as a case study.

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 in New Zealand, and a recent study into the e-waste management behaviours of households in Whangarei found that, in the current system, the cost, and a lack of knowledge, could contribute to only 1.8% of e-waste being recycled through municipal services in the district.

The study recommended that e-waste is labelled as a priority product under available government policy, due to its growing volume and its 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.

The European Union prioritised e-waste in 1991, and their product stewardship schemes include extending producer responsibilities meaning producers are 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. 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%, whereas New Zealand had an official collection rate of 0%.

“There are significant benefits from the reduction, reuse, recycling and recovery of e-waste, including reduced environmental and human health impacts at both 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”, said Vicktoria Blake, author of the Whangarei-based study. “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.”

The New Zealand Government has the ability to apply similar regulation to that embraced by the EU under the Waste Minimisation Act 2008, however SLR Consulting Ltd.’s 2015 report found that 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, as shown in Northern Europe’s success. 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”, Ms Blake said.

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.


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