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13 JULY 2006
ELECTRONIC WASTE A TOXIC TIME-BOMB FOR NEW ZEALAND
Electronic waste from computers and TVs is a toxic time-bomb for New Zealand that needs urgent attention, according to the Computer Access NZ Trust (CANZ).
In a report sponsored by the Minister for the Environment’s Sustainable Management Fund, CANZ says the country now has an estimated used and unused stock of 16 million desktop computers, computer monitors and TV sets, each of which contain toxic substances.
The report, e-Waste in New Zealand: taking responsibility for end of life computers and TVs, says the major potential contaminant is 20,000 tonnes of lead in the glass of 10 million cathode ray tubes (CRTs). Many thousands of CRTs are already being dumped in landfills each year.
CANZ recommends an industry-led solution to the problem, with TV and computer suppliers setting up a taskforce to establish a life-cycle product stewardship scheme. This could be similar to schemes already operating in Europe. In Europe, levies are charged when goods are first sold and held in trust against environmentally responsible disposal and recycling at end-of-life.
The industry should collaborate with Government in setting up the scheme, says CANZ. An important task for the Government would be to back up product stewardship with legislation to force participation from potential free-riders.
The report says the Ministry for the Environment is now building policy for ‘backstop’ legislation to present to the Government . If this is approved, empowering legislation could be presented to the House of Representatives by the end of 2006.
CANZ found no facilities in New Zealand that could safely recycle the lead contaminated glass or the plastics in computer monitors and TV sets. There was also very limited capacity for dealing with other forms of e-waste.
The report says the lack of facilities in New Zealand meant that most recycling under new product stewardship arrangements would initially be done offshore, at approved environmentally safe facilities. Small numbers of CRTs were already being exported to Australia, where crushed glass was used as flux at a lead smelter and plastic cases were recycled into fence posts and shipping pallets.
Desktop computers and TV sets are not our only e-waste problems, but the report authors say they are the biggest problem.
“We believe that if problems for desktop computers and TVs are highlighted, and product stewardship solutions found, there is a good chance that solutions for other sources of e-waste will follow,” says Laurence Zwimpfer, chair of the CANZ Trust and co-author of the report.
“For instance, procedures and facilities established for handling end-of-life computers and TVs could well be adapted or used for other forms of e-waste. Trying to solve problems for all forms of e-waste at the same time could bog the process down for all e-waste.”