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Credit: Recycling International

Credit: Recycling International

New Zealand’s Waste Minimisation Fund to invest in tech solutions to reduce e-waste

New Zealand’s Associate Environment Minister Eugenie Sage has announced on 28th May that funding for e-waste recycling will increase via a grant from the New Zealand government’s Waste Minimisation Fund (WMF).

According to a press release by the New Zealand government,  the increased funding will primarily be used by Auckland-based Mint Innovation to conduct a technical feasibility study for deploying waste recovery technology in the country.

The announcement comes as New Zealand seeks to increase momentum on a national push towards transforming the country’s economy into a “circular economy” where manufactured products and consumed items are designed to be reusable, recyclable or biodegradable. 

“This project shows that there are solutions to really tough waste problems,” said Minister Sage, who declared that tackling the growing problem of e-waste was one of her key priorities. 

“Heavy metals and toxic chemicals (from e-waste) can leach from landfills into soil and waterways, harming aquatic life and posing a threat to human health.”

Established in 2009, the WMF is funded by a levy of 10 New Zealand Dollars per tonne charge on waste going into the country’s landfills; the WMF is intended to  “boost New Zealand’s performance in waste minimisation” by “recovering economic value from waste: and reduce the environmental hazard posed by e-waste, as well as accrue social and cultural benefits. The WMF only funds waste minimisation projects that not only expand the existing coverage of waste minimisation activities, but also include an educational aspect to promote waste minimisation.

Founded in 2016, Mint Innovation employs proprietary bio-metallurgy processes for metal recovery. The company has recently collaborated with major New Zealand e-waste recycler Remarkit to “build a plant to demonstrate Mint's biometallurgy technology at a practical scale”.

As the fastest-growing source of waste in developed countries worldwide, the amount of e-waste generated globally is set to increase at a significant rate, raising concerns over toxic e-waste components leaking heavy metals such as cadmium, lead and mercury as well as other environmentally hazardous substances into the environment.

According to estimates by the New Zealand Ministry for the Environment, New Zealand disposes nearly 80 000 tonnes of e-waste annually (from Final Report on E-waste Product Stewardship Framework for New Zealand). The Global E-Waste Monitor 2017, a new assessment on global e-waste policies and statistics published by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), had earlier highlighted that global e-waste had rise 8% in weight, with just 20% being recycled.  In the same assessment, the ITU also singled out New Zealand as not only one of the world’s largest generators of e-waste, but also, as of 2017, the only OECD country without any national regulations on the issue.

“[A sector-wide product stewardship scheme] is effective in all OECD countries except New Zealand”, said eDay NZ Trust Chairman Laurence Zwimpfer in a press release. A community initiative that has advocated for e-waste awareness and minimisation since 2006, eDay NZ Trust has pointed out the lack of “ industry-led product stewardship schemes with regulatory support from government” in New Zealand as the main reason why the country’s campaign against e-waste has been ineffective. 

At present, the only product stewardship scheme that caters to e-waste is the nationwide RE:MOBILE programme — supported by the country’s major telecoms providers, the programme only targets e-waste generated from mobile phones.

As pointed out by Minister Sage in an earlier interview in March, “[New Zealand] has the Waste Minimisation Act, which is a good piece of law but it's failed to reach its full potential for more product stewardship”. 

The funding of new tech solutions to minimise e-waste will take New Zealand’s campaign against e-waste a step forward, spurring the creation of more product stewardship schemes to drive the country’s e-waste minimisation efforts forward.

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