The need to move against e-waste


Earlier yesterday, I was watching a documentary on Ghana’s electronic waste (e-waste) problem, which explored Abgogbloshie, an e-waste dump near the capital Accra.Situated on the banks of a river the dump takes tons of discarded computers, electronics, electrical parts and arrive there each year from Europe.

In a highly toxic environment, the burning of the plastic around the electronics exposes them to cancer causing dioxins that are released in the toxic smoke plumes. Fine particulate – not reported in the documentary – will most likely be falling down wind of the plume. And at ground level the cadmium, mercury, lead and other highly toxic substances from the crude dismantling of old and unwanted appliances will be accumulating in the ground where it has already reached levels 100x more than United Nations safety recommendations.

Thousands of kilometres away in New Zealand, we generate 90,000 tons of e-waste each year. Only about 1% of which – or about 900 tons – is actually recycled. The rest – computers, smart phones, printers, televisions, washing machines, microwaves among other items – is dumped at refuse stations, on the street and so forth.

I have opined about this before, but I am frustrated with the glacial action in Parliament to enact measures to deal with e-waste here. They could easily be including recycling programmes, product stewardship policies that result in a pathway from manufacture to end use, establishing places where the rare earth minerals can be removed from the devices and reused. The figures from New Zealand alone would support such moves – 600 tons of copper; 600 kilogrammes of gold; amounts of palladium, rhodium, silver and other minerals with economic value.

There are 118 elements in the current version of the Periodic Table of the Elements. 60 of them are used in some form or another of electrical components or electronic devices. Some like Niobium and Argon are not known to be toxic, but others like Cadmium and Tellerium are not only carcinogenic, but tetarogenic (causes defects in babies) as well. Given that the hazards of e-waste dumped in western nations as well, are often not well understood, it is difficult to imagine anyone in a poor country like Ghana wearing personal protection. This would include equipment such as gloves, boots, or taking measures such as washing their hands.

This is not sexy in the sense of getting public interest, but it is necessary, and when one thinks about how we source minerals a case for linking to climate change can actually be made. As with a lot of elements, many of the rare earth minerals come from mines in Africa, South America and Asia where environmental laws are lax and there is no requirement to remediate the land after mining. To create these mines vast tracts of potentially healthy forest are going to have to be wrecked and the flora and fauna in them displaced.

As with other forms of waste New Zealand needs to own its e-waste and deal with it. Expecting other countries to clean up our mess is simply not an option.

 

New Zealand’s 89,000 ton e-waste problem


In December 2017 the International Telecommunications Union released a report on electronic waste (e-waste). It lambasted New Zealand and Australia for their lack of effort acknowledging what is a major environmental problem in both countries. 89,000 tons per annum are thought to be generated in New Zealand, of which only about 900 tons actually gets properly processed. This is what prompted the harsh I.T.U. comments, and the blasting by New Zealand e-waste campaigner, Laurence Zwimpfer. That blasting of New Zealand inspired me to write a Diploma dissertation of about 8,000 words on the subject.

My key findings were:

  1. A basic lack of awareness around e-waste does exist in New Zealand at all levels
  2. Official agencies at all levels are not doing enough to address the issue
  3. Responses so far have been ad hoc in nature with no national oversight
  4. Business opportunities exist for those wishing to take advantage of the “Urban Mine”

I made inquiries with City, District, Regional councils as well as the Ministry for Environment and Ministry for Consumer Affairs on how they perceive e-waste as an issue and what they are doing to deal with it. I used a survey of about 40 people to find out what members of the public thought about e-waste as an issue and their perceptions of New Zealand’s response.

The results were loud and clear. New Zealanders have a basic awareness of it, but do not know what their local council is doing, how to safely dispose of devices that no longer work or what the risks are. There was also little understanding of what is happening in the private sector regarding electronic waste. A few issues had to be understood such as people’s attitudes to faulty devices fixed instead of replaced and how the depreciation of value over the years influenced them.

Significant business opportunities exist for people wanting to develop e-waste extraction businesses. New Zealand has very little – if any – in the way of this so far. No framework under which such enterprises could operate has been established, and regulatory guidelines for handling the more toxic elements such as Cadmium (Cd), which goes into cadmium-nickel batteries will need to be established as well. Significant quantities of gold (600kg/p.a.), copper (600t/p.a.) along with unknown quantities of silver, palladium and other elements are waiting to be recovered.

Whilst New Zealand is lagging behind, it is more consistent with the third world nations such as India and Iran; Ghana and Colombia. E.U nations, plus Japan were found to be investing significant money and resources into developing comprehensive e-waste management plans and research into how it can be recycled.

My conclusions were that:

  1. New Zealanders have a basic awareness of the term e-waste – most had heard of it
  2. Much potential for the concept of the “urban mine”, where recycling elements from e-waste could become quite profitable business with both environmental and economic benefits
  3. All sectors of New Zealand need to do more to know and understand e-waste as an issue

Greens move on tyre waste, announce plans for other waste types


The Green Party Annual Conference has wound up, with the party taking steps to keep both the social wing and the environmental wing of the party happy. In a weekend where the party had to address significant concerns arising out of the mess left by Metiria Turei’s departure in 2017, a back to basics approach was announced. It would see the party return to dealing with its core issues, whilst enjoying the fruits of some significant policy wins.

In keeping with their back to basics theme, the Green Party announced moves against waste tyre dumps in New Zealand. The problem, which in June 2017 saw an announcement of investment in a tyre processing facility, is one that New Zealand has been lagging behind other countries on for awhile.

It is not the only significant announcement that was made on waste, which I personally believe rivals climate change in potential severity if not addressed, but also in terms of opportunities for clean tech and new research. It was also announced that a waste stewardship programme would be designed for a range of waste types including tyres, lithium batteries, agri-chemicals and synthetic greenhouse gases.

All of this is well and good, but a much more wide ranging approach is needed for waste across the board. Whether it is common waste such as paper, plastic, wood, glass, or more problematic waste such as chemicals, waste fuel by products, electronic waste or otherwise, a comprehensive plan is needed. I believe a national policy statement on waste management, backed by appropriate rules and objectives. Councils need to introduce bylaws that are specific to their area, and compliant with any eventual policy statement.

Mayors of city and district councils around New Zealand have registered their support for increasing the fee for dumping rubbish at landfills from $10 to $40. The only problem I have here is that this then increases the risk of illegal dumping by the few that refuse to comply with local bylaws pertaining to waste, so I wonder if that means their councils would then be prepared to more aggressively pursue those who dump wherever they can instead of using their council bins.

Maybe this will come out over the next few months with regards to waste. I certainly hope so. New Zealand needs to reduce its waste footprint in order to maintain our current environment and improve our environmental standards in the long term. The growing realization that reducing waste can involve job creation should help to soothe the fears of those who think that the ever suffering rate/taxpayer will be further encumbered with costs that they can ill afford it.

A bigger question is how willingly will consumer and industrial advocates come on board and realize it is not all a Green conspiracy against their agenda’s and profits.

 

 

 

 

Public perceptions of e-waste in New Zealand


Between 72,000 and 85,000 tons of electronic waste accumulate in New Zealand each year. Electronic waste has many valuable minerals in its composition such as gold and copper, which can be found in commercial quantities and have considerable value.

Only about 1% of the e-waste that accumulates each year is ever properly recycled, dismantled or salvaged. The potential environmental risks are considerable – toxic elements such as lead and mercury whose poisonous effects are well known, along other not so well known but similarly toxic elements such as cadmium, can leach into groundwater, contaminate the soil and release harmful dust. All of these have potential vectors into the human body by swallowing, inhalation or touch.

However there is a growing awareness that this is not sustainable and risks causing lasting damage to New Zealand’s reputation. But also there is much wastage in gold, copper and other valuable minerals by the failure to extract them. Gold and copper are estimated to be dumped in e-waste at quantities of 600 kilogrammes and 600 tons respectively. There will be a market for that much of those two minerals.

As part of the academic requirements for my Graduate Diploma of Sustainable Management, I am required to conduct original research. Knowing what I have mentioned above has inspired me to do mine in e-waste. My research question is:

What are the public perceptions of electronic waste in New Zealand, with a view to starting a public discourse on the issue.

To this end I am doing a survey examining peoples understanding of electronic waste as an issue, asking for their views on it and whether thei council is doing enough

If you live in New Zealand and are keen to participate, I would love to hear from you. Please e-mail me at robertglennie000@gmail.com to find out more – you will be given a survey in MS Word format to do. It is not a long one. Likewise if you have experience working with e-waste either in a planning, handling or other role, I would be very happy to hear what your thoughts are.

 

Farmers burying toxic waste on their land?


It appears that large numbers of farmers may be inappropriately burying or otherwise disposing of toxic waste on their land.

According to a representative from Greater Wellington Regional Council, that the disposal of substances on farms is a permitted activity. The representative admitted that councils lack the resources to monitor permitted activities. That raises a question about the suitability of the “permitted” classification for such an activity. Six such classifications exist under the Resource Management Act:

  • Permitted. No resource consent or other permission required from a consenting authority
  • Controlled. An applicant must notify the council of a proposed activity, but the council must grant permission
  • Restricted discretionary. A consenting council shall restrict the exercising of its discretion to those aspects stated if it grants resource consent.
  • Discretionary. No restriction on the council’s ability to use its discretion.
  • Non-Complying. A council may only grant consent if it is satisfied that the effects of proposed activities will be minor or the activity is not contrary to the policies and objectives of any relevant plan.
  • Prohibited. A resource consent or other permission cannot sought, and nor can it be granted.

Due to the toxic nature of a lot of the items being dumped, I would have thought that it would have a discretionary or restricted discretionary classification as an activity.

I am surprised that after 25 years of the Resource Management Act that no specific requirements to minimise waste and purposefully encourage the management of waste to adhere to Section 5 of the Act. I am also surprised that despite growing public awareness of the problem, councils do not seem to be giving the dumping of waste and waste as a general issue the level of attention that one would expect in a country that prides itself on being clean and green.

It is media coverage like this that encourages me to not only push on with my petition to reduce waste in New Zealand but also to encourage a conversation to start about our overall sustainability. In a year where nations and their civil populations seem to be waking up to the damage that plastic causes it is high time we took our own waste management seriously.