How e-junk poses global hazard

Posted on April 11, 2003 
Filed Under Anita, New Zealand Herald

12:00AM Friday April 11, 2003

By ANITA MATTHEWS

Hazards from computer junk and other discarded electronic goods are of mounting concern globally and New Zealand has no national strategy to deal with the problem.

The deputy director at Auckland University’s International Centre for Sustainability Engineering and Research, Dr Carol Boyle, says that such a strategy is necessary to prevent the contamination of landfills.

“Although computers and other electronic goods are listed on the New Zealand Waste List, no measures have been put in place to identify how they are to be handled at the end of their useable life,” she said.

Although the Government had proposed to identify initiatives to address e-waste, nothing had been forthcoming.

“Some local governments have set up recycling initiatives to reduce the amount of inorganic material going to landfills but Auckland City has not followed suit,” she said.

A study last year by the centre showed batteries and other potentially hazardous waste made up 10 per cent of total refuse, so heavy metals in e-waste such as lead, mercury and cadmium could be leaching into groundwater.

Silicon Valley Toxic Coalition says the lifespan of computers is decreasing and by 2005 one computer will become obsolete for every new one sold.

Meanwhile, the environmental lobby group Basel Action Network (Ban) has accused New Zealand of exporting lead-acid batteries to a smelter in the Philippines.

“This is an example of a country knowingly violating the Basel Ban decisions of the Basel Convention,” said Ban founder Jim Puckett.

“We are looking into this now. It is likely that other lead waste like circuit boards and cathode ray tubes from NZ could be going to the Philippines as well.”

Ark Recycling general manager Robert Lye said the Government should follow e-waste disposal policies initiated by Germany and France.

In February the European Union passed laws obliging member states to adopt measures to minimise e-waste and ban the use of certain hazardous substances in electronic equipment by December 2006.

By August 2004, manufacturers will be required to take back electronic equipment at their own expense and banned from sending obsolete equipment to developing countries or landfills.

“This includes tagging a premium on the purchase price of new gear to provide for disposal,” said Lye.

Ark has been recycling and refurbishing computer gear since 1994 and between 30 and 40 tonnes a week is refurbished at its Mt Wellington plant and distributed to schools, non-profit groups and student families.

“About 8 to 12 tonnes a week of non-reusable bits are sorted, culled out and passed on to other recyclers in plastics, glass, metals for further processing locally,” he said.

But he said Ark would not be able to handle future volume increases, projected to be in excess of 300 tonnes a week in Auckland alone.

He said the main problem was non-accountable Government and local government departments that had privatised the collection and disposal of waste.

Lye said NZ should follow Australia and fund research and pilot plants capable of viable disposal.

“A single plant of this type would meet all NZ e-waste needs.”

The PC Company managing director, Colin Brown, said his firm had done some study relative to activities in Europe.

“We are keen to see the viability of some form of sponsorship to help develop an effective recycling programme.”

Computer company Dell is to launch a recycling programme in Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington next month and Hewlett Packard is reviewing its recycling programme.

E-waste nasties

* Lead - computer monitors and TV tubes contain leaded glass. A monitor contains about 6kg of lead.

* Cadmium - mainly from rechargeable nickel-cadmium (NiCad) batteries, found in laptops, semiconductors, chip resistors, and old monitors.

* Mercury - used in laptop batteries, printed circuit boards, and mobile phones.

* Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) - Transformers and capacitors in electronic devices may contain small quantities of PCBs.

* Plastics - make up about 22 per cent of a computer.

Links: Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition |Basel Action Network

Published in the New Zealand Herald, April 11, 2003.

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