The New Zealand e-waste problem

Ever taken the time to properly recycle your old phone or laptop? Most of us don’t, despite recycling of glass, plastic, and paper now becoming second nature to New Zealanders, our old tech generally gets thrown out with the general household rubbish, or sits in the corner of the garage collecting dust.

But e-waste (the name given to all electronic waste, covering everything from charge cords and plugs, through to your old iPhone or TV) is becoming a bigger and bigger issue. Globally it’s estimated that e-waste ads up to around 50 million tonnes of rubbish per year, and a report released in 2017 estimates this will continue to rise.

Global e-waste graph

In the US, the average household throws out around 80kgs of e-waste every year.

In New Zealand we like to think of ourselves as clean and green, surely we can’t be that bad. Unfortunately, evidence suggests when it comes to e-waste, we are some of the worst offenders in the developed world. Annually it’s estimated we create around 80,000 tonnes of e-waste each year, and by 2030 The Ministry for The Environment thinks we’ll average 26.9kgs of e-waste per person annually.
Last year a United Nations backed report singled out ourselves and Australia as saying together we produce some of the highest volumes of e-waste in the world while noting we had among the lowest documented rates for recycling.

We are wasteful and doing very little about it, despite the best efforts by some. The good news is, it looks like the government is starting to take things a little more seriously. Associate Environment Minister Eugenie Sage has stated that tackling e-waste is one of her key priorities, and is investigating a compulsory "product stewardship scheme", which would mean businesses would have to put arrangements in place to take back e-waste and dispose of returned items in an environmentally-friendly way.

But as consumers, how can we do better and help reduce New Zealand’s e-waste?

  • Recycle properly. Most local councils will have a way of recycling your e-waste, and there are even some commercial recyclers who will pay for your old tech. A simple google search will show you what your local options are.
  • Use quality products. So much of what we throw was bought cheap and lasted only a short period of time, think of all the phone chargers you’ve been through. While it might sting at the time to pay more for a good iPhone charger, odds on it will last a lot longer than the cheap one you found online.
  • Invest in refurbished technology. Each refurbished phone that’s bought is one less that ends up as waste.
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