Auckland-based Computer Recycling says its new $3.4 million system will allow it to process 2,000 tonnes of computers, LCD TVs and mobile phones a year.
This nearly doubles the amount of e-waste the company can process.
Managing Director Patrick Moynahan said the new Blubox shredder and MSS optical sorter have begun to fill a serious gap in Kiwis’ recycling efforts and have enabled the company to carve out more of an industry than he estimated $100 million a year.
Moynahan said the lack of regulation made it difficult to get up-to-date data on e-waste disposal, but the government estimated the average Kiwi produces 20kg of e-waste each year – one of the highest by living on the planet.
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A 2018 Massey University study estimated that 98,000 tonnes of e-waste is generated annually in the country.
“Estimates suggest only 2% of it is currently being recycled,” Moynahan said.
This was lower than the global figure, where 12.5% of e-waste generated is recycled each year.
The Blubox was designed to recycle small electronics including televisions, laptops, cell phones, modems, keyboards, hard drives, and fluorescent and LED lights.
The company’s Blubox is one of eight on the planet, Moynahan said, and the company was able to purchase it with the help of a $1.5 million grant from the Department of the Environment through Te Pūtea Whakamauru Para – Waste Reduction Fund, to advance Aotearoa’s recycling capacity with new technology.
The recycling process began with the return of electronic waste collected by Computer Recycling to the company’s site in Penrose. From there, the waste was sorted, graded and divided into two categories: reuse or recycling.
“Items that may have a second life are data wiped, refurbished and retailed through our outlet,” Moynahan said.
For items that entered the recycling stream, it started with shredding, after which an optical sorting system captured images of the material.
The images are processed to determine whether the material should be accepted or rejected, and once separated it is ready for export to partners in South Korea and Belgium, where the materials are returned to their raw state for sale.
Electronic waste contains a wide variety of materials, including plastics and traces of precious metals such as gold and silver.
The machine also has an integrated vacuum system to absorb mercury, treat exhaust air and transform contaminated waste into high value calibrated products.
“We operate under the Basel Convention, which is a treaty established to limit the amount of hazardous waste moving between countries, and which ensures that e-waste exported from New Zealand is handled responsibly,” said Moynahan.
He said the machines came from Europe in several components.
Because borders were closed during delivery, Kiwi technicians worked with their counterparts in Europe via augmented reality technology to operate the machines.
The company had a facility full of e-waste ready to power the machine for months, then Moynahan said it was now up to the Kiwis to bring their old technology to the factory.
Environment Minister David Parker officially started the machines in a ceremony on Thursday afternoon.
“The Blubox machine is a step forward for New Zealand in its transition to a circular economy,” Parker said.
“We estimate our e-waste recycling rate at less than 2%. It is far behind other countries, and we have to catch up with those who are leading the way.
How to recycle your electronic waste
Computer Recycling has three drop-off points in the North Island: one at its Auckland processing plant and two at Global Metal Solutions Hamilton and New Plymouth sites.
The company also runs an e-waste return service where Kiwis can order a box to their home, fill it and mail it back with a return label included in the box.
“We have also partnered with Envirowaste who see e-waste drop-off sites at Envirowaste sites in Tauranga, Cambridge, Hamilton and Auckland,” Moynahan said.
“We want to make it as easy as possible for Kiwis and businesses to dispose of their e-waste responsibly.”
Currently, customers must pay to have their electronics recycled by Computer Recycling.
“While we would like e-waste recycling to be free for all Kiwis, we are required to share a fraction of the cost of recycling with our customers, much like when the waste is taken to a landfill or other factories in recycling,” Moynahan said.
“We intend to ensure that e-waste recycling is made easy and accessible for our home and business customers, and we are always mindful of the fees that need to be passed on to consumers.”
“E-waste doesn’t break down easily, nor does it biodegrade,” Moynahan said.
“Electronics contain many different components, materials and metals, some of which are highly toxic to humans and the environment when they fail or are damaged.”
Electronic waste that ends up sitting untouched in landfills has the potential to leach toxins into the ground and waterways, Moynahan said.