Electronic waste.. It is not something you hear much about in the New Zealand media. The vast majority of New Zealanders have probably never heard of it, and perhaps even fewer care. Until yesterday’s United Nations report criticizing our complete lack of a plan to manage the 80,000 tons of e-waste New Zealand generates each year, probably not the media knew about it.
But there it is. A report damning New Zealand for having no management plan for a truly odious, highly toxic and potentially very dangerous type of waste. And the worst part about it?
I have been an advocate for dealing with e-waste for awhile. Earlier this year I wrote a blog item on it. Next year for my Graduate Diploma research, I am probably going to pick e-waste as a topic.
This is a punch in the face for our “clean, green New Zealand” image that we actively portray overseas. This, along with climate change, fresh water quality and our overall ecological footprint are all issues where we lag behind the O.E.C.D.
The Basel Convention prohibits the export of electronic waste to undeveloped countries where lax planning laws would mean, like in New Zealand, the vast bulk of it is thrown straight into landfills. It will not have been treated – the value elements such as copper wiring, metals and glass will not have been salvaged. The landfill itself might not be proper in design and may be lacking a base of compacted material that is designed to stop leaching into the ground water.
Do landfill operators even know what electronic waste is? My guess is probably no more than the average New Zealander.
And if a person wants to recycle their appliance, cellphone, or other electronic device, where are they going to take it? The good news is that the major cellphone network providers in New Zealand permit people to return their old cellphones (assuming they are on the same network) to their nearest store. I am not aware of appliance stores such as Noel Leeming, Harvey Normans or others having an active recycling programme.
Here is a list of every day devices and some of the toxic elements in them:
- Smartphones: Lithium (battery), Silicon (screen), Boron, Antimony, Neodymium, Praesodymium
- Flat screen TV: Neon, Xenon
- Smoke detector: Americium
- Laptop/desktop: Beryllium, Lead, Mercury, Chromium
- Microwave: Beryllium
- Compact Disc: Aluminium
- DVD Player: Silicon, Aluminium
- Batteries: Lithium, Cadmium
New Zealand is better than this. We risk suffering significant damage to our reputation as an environmentally responsible nation if this problem is not rectified. The Ministry for Environment needs to start work on a comprehensive overhaul of how New Zealand deals with toxic waste. First world this country might be, third world though is our attitude and status on electronic waste.