E-waste recycling comes with a cost

Monday October 17, 2016 Written by Published in Environment
A local student learns how to properly dismantle e-waste material. 16101431 A local student learns how to properly dismantle e-waste material. 16101431

This weekly column is supplied by Te Ipukarea Society. It deals with environmental and conservation concerns in the Cook Islands.

 

 

EVER WONDERED why there are costs involved when getting rid of e-waste (discarded electronic appliances such as mobile phones, computers and televisions)?

Why you just can’t dump it in with other rubbish at the landfill? What actually happens to your e-waste once you have left it with the recycler?

Recycle Cook Islands based here on Rarotonga, a division of Cook Islands General Transport, is the go-to place to deal with e-waste. In a nutshell, all e-waste they receive is dismantled and sorted into different categories from hard drives to circuit boards to screen components and power supplies. Costs are involved in this process, in order to pay staff involved in doing the dismantling work.

These sorted parts are now called “e-scrap”, and make up the commercial recycling fraction of e-waste. All e-scrap is exported off the island in large shipping containers. Containers full of the material are sent to factories in Singapore, where parts are shredded to recover valuable metals such as aluminum. Plastic components are recovered to make pallets. Singapore has a big electronics industry, and e-wastes makes useful raw material.

The costs involved in dismantling and shipping e-waste from somewhere such as the Cook Islands are higher than the value of materials when landed in Singapore. This raises the need for a systems such as an advance disposal fee on all electronics brought into the Cook Islands. A small fee added at import would help with the afterlife process of the electronic item by subsidising the costs involved in dismantling and exporting.

Exporting e-waste off our shores is crucial, especially considering the environmental concerns that come with dumping e-waste in the landfill and on the roadside. All e-waste exposed to the outside environment starts to degrade, and during that degrading process hazardous chemicals can enter the surrounding environment, causing problems not only for the environment, but possibly your own health.

In a matter of four months a total of $17,000 allocated to the Cook Islands under the regional PacWaste project for e-waste disposal - was used up. The project was funded by the Pacific Regional Environment programme through the Cook Islands National Environment Service.  

The grant money was put in place to collect household e-waste free of charge. At the same time, government departments and commercial businesses also jumped on board. As funds for the project were extremely limited, only households were subsidised and government and business institutions had to pay full price to relieve their storage space of the significant quantities of e-waste that had built up.

Over the four-month period 4000 items were received. Amongst them were 400 desktop computers, 350 photocopiers/printers and 250 old glass TVs.

Funding to take in e-waste has run out for the moment, however Recycle Cook Islands are still collecting e-waste at a cost.

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