THE E-WASTE CHAM­PION

Element - - Waste Champions - By Nigel Parry JOHN GERTSAKIS

The world is drown­ing un­der a moun­tain of mod­ern lifestyle elec­tron­ics. Not the ones we use, but the ones we throw out when they stop work­ing or just get up­graded.

John Gertsakis has over 20 years ex­pe­ri­ence as an in­dus­try ad­viser, con­sul­tant and re­search aca­demic on e-waste, and he says we need to do bet­ter.

“Elec­tronic prod­ucts are pro­lif­er­at­ing. And these are con­sum­ing vast amounts of lim­ited re­sources,” he says. It is a dou­ble whammy as old elec­tronic prod­ucts, or e-waste, con­tain haz­ardous sub­stances as well as re­cov­er­able ma­te­ri­als.

Yet although we cre­ate over 80,000 tonnes of e-waste a year in New Zealand, we are not do­ing enough to tackle the grow­ing is­sue com­pared to other de­vel­oped coun­tries. It is still cheaper to throw some­thing away than to get it re­cy­cled safely.

Gertsakis be­lieves that the real work starts long be­fore any­thing is tossed on the elec­tri­cal scrap heap. “How do we im­prove the life cy­cle of prod­ucts? How do you re­design dish­wash­ers to use less wa­ter, de­ter­gent, energy, and are made for endof-life dis­as­sem­bly?”

Even the best dish­washer will need re­plac­ing even­tu­ally, and com­pa­nies that make prod­ucts need to take re­spon­si­bil­ity be­yond the sale, at end of life. “We need to shift cost from coun­cils back to those that ben­e­fit, back to the pro­duc­ers,” he says. It is a con­cept of­ten re­ferred to as prod­uct stew­ard­ship.

And he be­lieves New Zealand is bark­ing up the wrong tree if we are se­ri­ous about tack­ling the prob­lem. In Gertsakis’ view, short-term pro­grammes, in­cen­tives for in­di­vid­ual schemes and end­less Min­istry re­ports do not cut it; the only way for us to get a pass mark for man­ag­ing our e-waste is leg­is­la­tion and reg­u­la­tions that are long term and cover the whole in­dus­try.

Sure, we have no­table suc­cesses, he ad­mits, in­clud­ing some man­u­fac­tur­ers, re­tail­ers such as The Ware­house and other pro­grammes. Fuji Xerox’s own Zero land­fill scheme is one picked out by Gertsakis and praised by oth­ers in­clud­ing En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter Dr Nick Smith. The com­pany has just re­ceived cer­ti­fi­ca­tion for their pro­gramme to take back all their prod­ucts, reusing what they can and get­ting the rest re­cy­cled.

The Min­istry for the En­vi­ron­ment ad­min­is­ters the Waste Min­imi­sa­tion Fund. This charges $10 per tonne of land­fill and pulls in around $30 mil­lion each year, giv­ing half to lo­cal coun­cils for deal­ing with waste and us­ing the rest to sup­port spe­cific pro­grammes.

Ac­cord­ing to MfE fig­ures the TV Take­back pro­gramme used up over $11 mil­lion to col­lect around 228,000 old TVs, re­cov­er­ing some ma­te­ri­als and deal­ing with the haz­ardous sub­stances hid­den in them. Our an­nual E-Day pulled to­gether the public, man­u­fac­tur­ers and other or­gan­i­sa­tions for some years. It isn’t enough, Gertsakis says. “There is a naive belief from pol­i­cy­mak­ers that the sec­tor will fund this in New Zealand. The re­al­ity is there are very few per­ma­nent vol­un­tary pro­grammes for elec­tron­ics around the world. You need reg­u­la­tion that re­quires all brands to fund the sys­tem.”

Un­der our Waste Min­imi­sa­tion Act, e-waste could be de­clared a ‘pri­or­ity prod­uct’, which would trig­ger a more com­pre­hen­sive prod­uct stew­ard­ship so­lu­tion. That has the sup­port of Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment NZ, but their pleas have so far fallen on deaf ears in the Bee­hive.

He points to the Aus­tralian model, where four years ago a bi­par­ti­san ap­proach in Par­lia­ment lead to their Prod­uct Stew­ard­ship Act. All im­porters and man­u­fac­tur­ers of any size must fund and join an ap­proved scheme to deal with their prod­ucts when they even­tu­ally turn to rub­bish. Re­cy­cling tar­gets start small, 30% in the first year, but ratchet up to 80% by 2022. And while the re­sult­ing pro­grammes are not per­fect they are a very good start, he says.

The Euro­pean Union has had Waste from Elec­tri­cal and Elec­tronic Equip­ment (WEEE) reg­u­la­tions for over 12 years and other parts of the world have fol­lowed in their foot­steps, so prod­ucts are al­ready de­signed with end of life re­cov­ery in mind. Prod­ucts are of­ten made with less haz­ardous sub­stances in the first place such as us­ing lead-free solder.

But Gertsakis con­tends that e-waste man­age­ment won’t hap­pen in a way that re­ally tack­les the prob­lem with­out a Gov­ern­ment that is keen to see it through. Our trans-Tas­man neigh­bours have man­aged to break through any al­lergy they had to reg­u­la­tion.

“The re­al­ity is it’s not man­u­fac­tur­ers that run these take-back and re­cy­cling schemes. In­dus­try funds a scheme and out­sources it to the waste man­age­ment and re­verse lo­gis­tics in­dus­try. You don’t have to be man­u­fac­tur­ing in a coun­try to pro­vide a re­cy­cling scheme.”

He is wait­ing for New Zealand to have a change of heart. Un­til then we won’t make the grade.

Photo: supplied

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