As much as 98% of New Zealand’s household electrical and electronic waste – or “e-waste" – may end up in landfills,
according to recent research which used the Whangarei District as a case study.
New Zealand produces an estimated 98,000 tonnes of e-waste each year, and the amount is growing up to three times faster
than any other type of waste. Despite this, e-waste is still managed through voluntary schemes in New Zealand, and a
recent study into the e-waste management behaviours of households in Whangarei found that, in the current system, the
cost, and a lack of knowledge, could contribute to only 1.8% of e-waste being recycled through municipal services in the
The study recommended that e-waste is labelled as a priority product under available government policy, due to its
growing volume and its potential to cause significant environmental harm. Prioritising e-waste would mean that the waste
stream would need to be managed under a national mandatory product stewardship scheme.
The European Union prioritised e-waste in 1991, and their product stewardship schemes include extending producer
responsibilities meaning producers are required to take more responsibility for each stage of their product’s lifecycle,
from creation to disposal. A further example of product stewardship includes providing services to collect e-waste for
recycling. The 2017 Global E-waste Monitor, which provides a global overview of the e-waste problem, found that in 2016
Northern Europe achieved an official e-waste collection rate of 49%, whereas New Zealand had an official collection rate
“There are significant benefits from the reduction, reuse, recycling and recovery of e-waste, including reduced
environmental and human health impacts at both the product creation stage, such as those caused by precious metal
mining, and at the end of the product’s life, by way of hazardous substance leakage into the environment”, said
Vicktoria Blake, author of the Whangarei-based study. “Mandating the extension of producer responsibilities, making them
responsible for managing the end-of-life stage of their electrical and electronic products, would work to ensure the
appropriate management of e-waste, and could even enable wider reaching economic opportunities.”
The New Zealand Government has the ability to apply similar regulation to that embraced by the EU under the Waste
Minimisation Act 2008, however SLR Consulting Ltd.’s 2015 report found that there was insufficient data available to
meet the requirements to label e-waste a priority, which would reduce the amount of e-waste that is ending up in
landfills, as shown in Northern Europe’s success. The Whangarei-based study was designed to assist with providing the
data this report stated was required.
“Unless we consider prioritising e-waste for product stewardship, the risks of detrimental effects caused by e-waste
will continue to rise, and New Zealand could become a literal dumping ground for inferior and end-of-life electronic
goods”, Ms Blake said.
The Whangarei case study was only a snapshot of the e-waste scape in New Zealand, however, it paints a sobering picture
of the growing amount of hazardous waste entering our landfills.