A regular series from Goodman Property examining environmental sustainability and how New Zealand business is working to get us there.
The problem: Waste, environmental impact, global warming and climate change The expert: Marty Hoffart, chairman of Zero Waste Network NZ says New Zealand is only recycling 28 per cent of the 2.5m-4m tonnes of waste it produces annually – though places like Raglan and Waiheke are up to 70 per cent. There is, he says, not enough of a "circular economy…if we make something and we can recover it and make it again and again, it means we don't have to keep going back and extracting more from the planet and that's really where we do all the damage". Recovering and recycling materials like cans and bottles means we save up to 97 per cent of the energy required to make new ones.
Recycling electronic waste not only rids the world of toxins, it can be profitable..
Patrick Moynihan knows how to extract gold, silver, platinum palladium and copper from your computer.
Moynihan is managing director of Computer Recycling Ltd, an electronic waste recycling and disposal centre in Auckland specialising in technology re-use and computer recycling – including almost anything with a power plug.
His business performs a double function; it makes a profit while helping to save our environment from having to accommodate the accumulated and harmful hardware of the electronic age. But he says nearly all e-waste, 98 per cent of it, is still going to landfill even though his company processes over 1000 tonnes of it a year, up 40 per cent since he bought the company four years ago, and 4m kg in all.
"You export the printed circuit boards to a big refinery [in Belgium] and you extract the gold and silver and platinum, palladium, copper… From a shipment of, say, 10,000kg of printed circuit boards, which is quite a lot of printed circuit boards, you might be able to extract 2kg of gold, 10kgs of silver, and two and a half tonnes of copper.
"If you can get it right," he says, "you can massively reduce the amount of electronics going to landfill and recover a heck of a lot of reusable materials."
Moynihan's company takes "anything with a plug – so televisions, microwave, fridges, computers, laptops, mobiles, washing machines, dryers".
"They say 98 per cent of electronic waste ends up in landfill in New Zealand which is just massive. What I wanted to do was make it really easy for businesses and the public to find us and to dispose of electronic waste in an easy way that is also really cost-effective – it's often cheaper to work with us than disposing of your e waste in landfill."
And landfill is a big problem: "It [e-waste] is the fastest-growing municipal waste stream and the most toxic," he says. "E waste contains mercury cadmium, a heap of nasties that…can leach from the landfills and go into the groundwater. It's not a very nice thing environmentally."
Companies like his are part of the answer. "Overseas, this is massive business, particularly in the US and in Australia. There's massive value out of this sort of thing. New Zealand still is a little bit behind the times as there is no regulation."
Product stewardship is a vital part of solving the e-waste problem, Moynihan says. Manufacturers of computers would have to pay a tariff on each item.
"Say it's just a dollar a kilo for a flat screen television; that money goes into a pool redistributed to the collection networks and the recyclers. It puts a much better magnifying glass on what's happening to this material and…you reduce the amount going to landfill.
"It's also good for the manufacturers because it means you're not going to get some backyard cowboy potentially collecting a heap of stuff and then exporting it to the Congo."
There's one thing ordinary New Zealanders can do to help, he says – buy quality equipment as opposed to cheap IT gear which will quickly fail and have to be thrown out and dispose of it properly.
"Buy better – it's hard, you're on a budget but buying high quality goods means you'll drastically extend the life of what you're using. You can buy something cheap and be like, oh yeah, that'll do the trick for a while but then…in 12 months' time, it's given up the ghost.
Also big in the recycling world is Eldon Reeve and Hilary West-Reeve, of Phoenix Metal Recyclers – a full service professional scrap metal recycling company with nine yards nationwide and a network throughout the South Pacific. They recycle ferrous (steel and iron) and non-ferrous metals (copper, brass, aluminium, lead, stainless steel, plus lead acid batteries).
Metal is 100 per cent recyclable; it is permanent and can be recycled over and over again – and recycling metal emits 80 per cent less CO2 than production from raw materials. Recycling one tonne of steel can save 1.5 tonnes of iron ore from being mined, saving natural habitats and forests.
Recycling steel also uses 70 per cent less energy than mining and refining virgin iron ore and recycling metal avoids sending permanent material to landfills. Eldon Reeve says their company is number one in New Zealand for recycling car batteries – and urges people to hang on to their AA and AAA batteries as a new recycling service for them is on the way.
The global push for electric vehicles (EVs) is also empowering the recycling industry, he says: "They are really topical at the moment because the construction of new EVs is copper-heavy, so demand for copper is at an all time high – and will be huge for the next five years, I think.
"Lightweight materials like aluminium are used a lot in automotive manufacturing – and then there're things we have in our houses – aluminium joinery, a huge, huge user of recycled aluminium. There are lots of products and a huge demand for them.
Phoenix exports metallics to buyers throughout Asia, including Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Korea, Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam and China: "If we're talking about in the last 12 months, we'd be about 75 or 80,000 tonnes of metallics that have come through our business and then about another 20,000 tonnes of concrete and timber and other and glass recyclables as well. We're talking some pretty big numbers," says Eldon.
Ordinary New Zealanders can help, simply by taking their metal appliances and the like to a metal recycler when, for example, the washing machine gives up the ghost.
Footprint: Business Sustainability is a new podcast series from Newstalk ZB and Goodman Property. Episode 3: Recycling is out now.