Local e-waste specialist IT Recycla has bought an eco-friendly e-waste processor to stop toxic electronic waste going into New Zealand's landfills.
And while the company had already made its decision to invest, the business case for the new plant has only been improved by government moves to introduce regulated product stewardship requirements for e-waste and other waste categories.
The CEO of the Auckland and Wellington-based company, Kevin Ruscoe, said e-waste was a growing problem.
“We promote ourselves as being so pure in New Zealand, but the really our approach to recycling is Third World,” Ruscoe said.
“We have no centralised recycling like other developed countries. It’s a national disgrace. I got so frustrated, which is why we bought the automatic separator, so we could to do the job ourselves.”
Seventy percent of the toxicity in our landfills is caused by electronic waste, he said.
“The mercury, lead, arsenic, beryllium, chromium and cadmium that come from old technology can cause major health problems.”
These include brain damage, reproductive and developmental issues, and immune, kidney, nervous system and DNA damage.
IT Recycla’s is investing in new plant that will make it economic to process a much wider set of e-waste technologies without charging the user including items that are hard to recycle effectively now, such as old modems.
At the core of the new investment is an e-waste processing plant and "eddy current" separator that is 99.5 per cent effective in separating the materials containing toxic substances.
Although not a new technology, the conveyor-belt based separator will be the first in New Zealand when it arrives.
Materials go through several shredding, shaking and sorting/separation processes.
It uses powerful rare earth magnets to remove ferrous (iron-containing) metals, while "eddy current separation"
separates aluminium, copper, plastics and printed circuit board materials.
Currently, many recyclers manually pic over e-waste to rescue the valuable components, such as those containing gold, and then sell the rest in bulk to be recycled offshore.
The new plant will enable a much higher level of onshore e-waste processing and recovery and deliver greater certainty about where materials end up.
“Regulated product stewardship helps put the responsibility for waste and what happens to products at the end of their useful life on manufacturers, importers, retailers and users, rather than on communities, councils, neighbourhoods and nature,” associate environment minister Eugenie Sage said in July.
“Old products that have reached the end of their life can be used to make something new, especially if they are designed better for reuse and recycling."
New Zealand had 15 voluntary accredited product stewardship schemes but these had limited success in minimising waste.
The government’s decision to require the establishment of regulated product stewardship schemes followed a public consultation in 2019.