David Clendon

Fiddling about with e-Waste

by David Clendon

I’m  puzzled as to why the Minister for the Environment is so unwilling to use the provisions of the Waste Minimisation Act to deal much more effectively with the issue of e-Waste in New Zealand.

Dr Smith has announced today that he is  “…asking businesses to come forward with innovative solutions on how we can expand the infrastructure for TV recycling and raise awareness of how to recycle and properly dispose of this electronic waste.”

A report published in July this year highlighted the nature and scale of the crisis facing us, associated with the switch from analogue to digital television, and the general preference of many consumers to replace older style cathode ray (CRT) television sets and computer monitors with the modern ‘flat screen’ style. The volume of old and soon to be unwanted CRT TVs means that  (among other things) thousands of tonnes of lead will be available to be recycled and reused in some way, or dumped in landfills to pose a real threat to the environment and human health.

The Community Recycling Network in partnership with RCN has made good use of funding from the Waste Minimisation Levy (another successful Green Party initiative) to establish a ‘pilot’ programme setting up collection points and recycling facilities around the country, and more are planned. The bug in the ointment however is that people bringing unwanted items in for recycling are obliged to pay, to meet at least some of the $20-00 (approximately) cost of processing. Some individuals (and many businesses) will pay the sum quite willingly, but many will not.

The Minister could resolve the dilemma very quickly by establishing a mandatory product stewardship scheme which would provide the cash flow to manage the backlog of e-waste that is very soon expected ‘on stream’, and in the longer run to maintain the viability of collection and processing facilities.  Purchasers will pay marginally more for the product,but not to a level that will cause pain, and will then have no liability when they dispose of the item.

We know that the industry, especially the importers of product, are not opposed in principle to a scheme, but will not support a voluntary scheme because they are immediately put at a commercial disadvantage from ‘free riders’ who would enjoy the benefits but not share the cost.

The Minister needs to cut to the chase and initiate a comprehensive scheme, rather than continue to work around the margins with incremental and ‘one off’ projects, worthy though they might be.

 

Published in Environment & Resource Management by David Clendon on Thu, September 8th, 2011   

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