Volunteer Blair Appleby dismantling e-waste for its copper and other recyclable constituents

Nationwide, there are countless defunct electronic products gathering dust and taking up valuable space in homes, offices, sheds and garages. RNZ reports that the average Kiwi generates more than 20 kg of unwanted and end-of-life e-products each year – one of the highest per capita amounts on the planet.

Yet New Zealand is the only country in the entire OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) without a national e-waste scheme.

For consumers with broken or obsolete electronic goods such as old TV’s, computers, printers, microwaves etc., the problem is what to do with them?  

The Environment Centre Hawke’s Bay (ECHB) at 1004 Karamu Road North in Hastings can provide the solution. 

It wants more people to bring their unwanted e-waste (and other recyclables) into the centre, where it can be repurposed or recycled in a socially responsible way, rather than let it languish in homes or business premises or, much worse, be dumped into landfill.

E-waste manager, Henry Coulson (right), and volunteers dismantling e-waste

E-waste manager Henry Coulson told me that, currently, the amount of e-waste coming into the Centre on an annual basis is around 80 tonnes, but that equates to a miserly 2% of the province’s e-waste. He says that the centre has the capacity to significantly increase its e-waste recycling and this is what its current community drive is hoping to achieve.

He thinks there are multiple reasons for the low return of e-waste. A lack of awareness that the centre in Hastings exists is certainly a factor, along with poor understanding of the harm that can happen when e-waste ends up in landfill (e.g. potential leaching of toxic chemicals and metals into the ecosystem and waterways).  Sometimes people just can’t be bothered and chuck their old electronics into their wheelie bins and then, of course, there is a small charge to cover costs, which can put off some people.

The Sustaining Hawke’s Bay Trust operates the ECHB. As a Charitable Trust, it relies on grants and donations plus income obtained from upcycling or recycling the e-waste to continue its operations.

The Centre’s new General Manager, Emma Horgan-Heke and the team are currently preparing a Business Case to obtain funding from local councils to help finance the current operations and expected growth. 

Electronics brought in – such as computers and TV’s – are tested and, if they can be repaired, they are upcycled and sold at reasonable prices at the Centre. If unrepairable, they are dismantled to remove the constituent materials and components such as steel, circuit boards, copper, wiring etc., which are then sent on to specialist third parties who sort them out. Steel goes to scrap merchants, circuit boards are sent to Japan for processing and wiring goes to Auckland where it is shredded and copper removed.

Local councils are leading by example. Hastings District Council advises that it uses HP and a Charitable Trust called Digital Wings https://www.digitalwings.nz/ to dispose of its own e-waste, while its website directs the public to take their unwanted electronics to the ECHB.

Napier City Council engages RemarkIT Solutions for all de-commissioned IT equipment. Re-useable equipment is sold by RemarkIT or donated to the Digital Wings programme, while the remainder is recycled.

Hawke’s Bay Regional Council also sends its laptops, PCs, monitors and other sundry e-waste to RemarkIT Solutions to repurpose and uses Digital Wings. It supports a public collection bin for old mobile phones, which are then returned to:  www.remobile.org.nz.

The team at the ECHB is made up of a full-time General Manager, eight part-time staff and twenty volunteers whose time and expertise in dismantling the e-waste and accepting goods from members of the public is invaluable. 

To find out what the Environment Centre accepts, go to:  https://www.environmentcentre,org or, if you’d like to volunteer, phone (06) 8704942.

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2 Comments

  1. We send a lot of our household recyclable waste to ECHB – and we’d certainly use them for E-waste. It’s a great facility – one problem though – it’s site. It’s on a main road with little parking facilities and it’s close to the traffic lights so can become congested at times. I just feel a more quiet, or semi-rural area would be a better fit with easier access (although I know some people would be unhappy that it’s not on their doorstep).

  2. It’s an awesome facility which deserves far more support. If only the other councils in the region would follow suit! And as you said, there’s no national policy in place for recycling e-waste – a shame, really.

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