Electronic waste is a growing issue

E-JUNK: A long-term method of collecting and reusing or recycling e-waste is needed.
E-JUNK: A long-term method of collecting and reusing or recycling e-waste is needed.

Disposal days to get rid of unwanted electronic goods are only the first step towards tackling a blight of modern life, writes Karen Driver.

Some of you will have dropped off your computer waste at the eDay events in 2008 or 2009. Many more may have missed the opportunity and thought they would wait until this year.

Now there is talk in the press about whether eDay is going to happen again or not.

All electronic waste contains valuable metals and minerals, most of which can be reused or recycled.

The easy option would be to just throw it away, but many people are aware of the need to recover these resources and look for a better solution.

With all the current talk of mining for new resources it can't be sensible to bury those we've already mined, then dig up new ones. It's neither efficient nor sustainable.

The best solution would be to reuse or recycle more of it here in New Zealand, particularly as some countries are now wising up to the value of e-waste, and are increasingly keen to take ours.

eDay was specifically designed to collect computer waste for reuse/recycling. However, it didn't solve the problem of what to do with your television or microwave and the like. It was only ever an interim solution because it is recognised that an ongoing facility to drop off electronic waste locally is required.

It also cost you and me a lot of money. Although mostly funded by the government, councils – including our own Nelson city and Tasman district councils – paid a large amount of the costs locally. Many private businesses also supported the event, including free use of collection sites offered by Enza, Fonterra, Fulton Hogan and K&F McLean, and none of it would have been possible without the enormous support of volunteers.

During the eDay events in 2008 and 2009, 100 tonnes of computer waste was collected. Can you imagine what that looks like? Talk to the guys at Enza, because they packed most of it.

We're not sure if eDay will happen this year, but it is clear we need a long-term solution to the growing problem of electronic waste. Relying on government, councils, businesses and volunteers is not viable.

Of course there will be a cost. My preference, and that of many governments around the world, is that it is those who make or sell these products who should be responsible for their recovery. If they had to pay for the materials to be recovered, there would be more incentive for them to make products last longer, be easier to dismantle, and replace the more toxic materials with alternatives.

Discussions are under way for such schemes to be implemented internationally and we have that facility through the product stewardship mechanism in the Waste Minimisation Act 2008.

In Australia they are looking to implement a product stewardship solution for computers and televisions by 2011, and many other areas, including Europe, are pursuing similar schemes.

Discussions with manufacturers, importers and retailers operating in New Zealand are already taking place.

In the meantime we can't afford to wait – our resources are being buried, our landfills are filling up, and everyone has to pay the cost of inefficient systems.

Of course the fairest interim solution would be for those who use and throw to be those who cover the cost of the recycling/recovering. Costs for some items may be partly offset by the value of the materials recovered.

In the long term, perhaps those that sell or manufacture these products will take responsibility for their recovery.

Work is progressing towards a solution. We just need to make sure it is viable for New Zealand.

  • Going Green is a fortnightly column written by members of the Nelson Environment Centre.