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How can eWaste be RAD?

Victoria MacLennan. 08 June 2022, 11:14 pm
How can eWaste be RAD?

I went to the sustainability expo today, created by the Sustainability Trust and hosted at the Beehive Banquet Hall. I also learned after nearly 30 years in Wellington the Beehive is located in Museum Street (for those like me, that's the shortcut driveway from Bowen through to Hill/Molesworth). 

The event was buzzing, with about 25-30 exhibitors, continuous speakers / panels and a diverse mix of people walking around. My purpose for attending was to support the team from RAD - Recycle A Device. RAD is a collaborative initiative spawned during lockdown by a group of us focused on how to get laptops into the hands of leaners who could not participate in schooling. With the help of a fabulous young enterprise team from Aotea College who had developed a programme where high school students rebuild and repurpose old laptops the programme is now nationwide. With three benefits - laptops to help close the digital divide, new digital technology skills for those who repurpose them AND reduction in e-Waste, it's one of the programmes I am most proud of.

Minister James Shaw dropped by and the RAD student team members gave him a fantastic overview of the programme. RAD was the only eWaste stand there (which did surprise us). I spoke to many great food waste programmes, curtain recycling, energise Otaki, various composting programmes and lots of biogradable storage products. 

What is eWaste 

The UN defines e-waste as any discarded product with a battery or plug, and features toxic and hazardous substances such as mercury, that can pose severe risk to human and environmental health. Source

eWaste is any electronic item disposed of - it's not a clearly defined list and that list keeps growing, here's a taster:

  • Computers / laptops / servers
  • Screens / TV's
  • Phones - all kinds
  • Mice / trackpads 
  • EarPods / Earbuds
  • iPads / Chrome Books / tablets
  • Old tech like - VCR's, DVD players, CD players, fax machines
  • Printers / photocopiers 
  • Smart Fridges and a variety of other appliances
  • A whole heap of commercial things like scanners, eftpos machines, ATM's
  • Gaming consoles 
  • Other random stuff - smart watches, heart monitors, wifi / routers, security cameras

Why does it matter? 

Telling you how to suck eggs so I will keep this short. Electronics contain toxic materials, you can read a list of those toxins here on Wikipedia. When buried in the landfill it can dissolve in microscopic traces and leach from the landfill into groundwater and waterways. This in turn can poison wildlife and potentially stock and people. It's bad. Besides we are all trying to reduce our carbon footprint, send less to landfill and be responsible consumers. 

How much eWaste are we talking about? 

A few quotes from Wikipedia again

  • E-waste is considered the "fastest-growing waste stream in the world" with 44.7 million tonnes generated in 2016 - equivalent to 4500 Eiffel towers.
  • In 2019, an enormous volume of e-waste (53.6 Mt, with a 7.3 kg per capita average) was generated globally. This is projected to increase to 74 Mt by 2030.

And quotes from the UN environmental programme:

  • The world produces as much as 50 million tonnes of electronic and electrical waste (e-waste) a year, weighing more than all of the commercial airliners ever made. Only 20% of this is formally recycled.
  • The e-waste produced annually is worth over $62.5 billion, more than the GDP of most countries. There is 100 times more gold in a tonne of e-waste than in a tonne of gold ore.

I read somewhere 416,000 cellphones are thrown away in the US everyday and an average user throws away their cellphone every 18 months. 

What about here in Aotearoa New Zealand? 

There isn't much research on our own footprint here in Aotearoa it seems, most sites quote Wikipedia on this: 

"Every year, as of 2017, New Zealand generates approximately 99,000 tonnes (20.1 kg per capita) of electronic waste, of which 97,000 tonnes is disposed of in landfills."

"A report published in 2017 by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) noted that New Zealand and Australia produced the highest volumes of e-waste per capita in the world while having amongst the lowest documented rates of recycling."

Call to action!

Got something electronic to dispose of find a recycler to take it, don't put it in the bin. 

If it's a chrome book or laptop, less than 10 years old and has a charger - RAD will take it off your hands and once securely wiped, refurbished and rebuilt place it in the hands of someone who otherwise couldn't afford a device (not to mention train them in how to use it). Go hunt in your garages, cupboards, under desks - RAD will take laptops in any condition. 

Otherwise the Sustainability Trust is an awesome place who take a range of items - https://sustaintrust.org.nz/our-recycling-programmes/e-waste-wellington

And please share the message with your colleagues, friends and whānau. Looking forward to an influx of laptops to RAD. Ngā mihi Vic

Here is the team with Minister James Shaw. 

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