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e-Cycle has been rocking in Wanaka since March, and last week I headed up to Wellington with Sue for the official launch of RCN e-Cycle. The launch was a great celebration of e-Cycle’s achievements, and ended with cigars, grappa and $1 million new funding for e-Cycle.

Launch morning starts with an early morning phone call home to Wanaka. “Quick, the Minister is saying something about computer recycling on Morning Report.” Karen Driver (CRN’s e-Cycle manager) and I rush around the motel room looking for a radio, but can only find an enormous flat-screen TV.  Holding the phone up to the radio at home works fine though, so Environment Minister Nick Smith is beamed back to Wellington from Wanaka.

The Minister announces $1 million new money for RCN e-Cycle.  He is impressively knowledgeable about computer and television waste and makes the whole e-Cycle project sound like the Government’s idea. No pressure– we only have to sort out one of the fastest growing and most toxic waste streams in the country. Hmmm, $1 million isn’t sounding like quite so much money after all….

Karen and I head off to meet the Minister in person at RCN e-Cycle’s new recycling facility in Wellington. We’re first there, and are welcomed graciously by Gary Fox, the manager and chief recycler. Gary makes us a primo cup of tea and tells us about his pig-hunting exploits and recycling e-waste in Wellington. He’s wearing white disposable overalls, brand new in honour of the Minister’s visit, and he looks like he is off to decontaminate a nuclear facility. I’ve been writing about the toxic chemicals contained in electronic waste for the last six months, but they seem a bit more real now. Especially when the respirator masks come out later.

Gary has a quiet cuppa before his starring role

Soon the RCN crew from Auckland arrive in smart-looking suits. RCN partners CRN in RCN e-Cycle. They are a privately-owned family firm who do the behind the scenes breaking down and recycling of computers. The whole initials thing is very confusing with RCN and CRN being way too alike, even though they come from very different backgrounds.

 

 

CRN stands for the Community Recycling Network, which is the umbrella organisation for all the community recycling centres around New Zealand. RCN doesn’t officially stand for anything, but late in the evening (when the grappa and cigars are broken out) I was told that the name of the firm was taken from the initials of the boss’s children.  Joe Capizzi the founder and managing director of RCN is a true gentleman and he does have a son Nick, so the general conclusion is that it must be true.

Gary takes the Environment Minister through the computer disassembly process

Just before 9.30am, there is a flurry at the roadside and the Minister is here. He greets us all and then moves to the disassembly area with Gary. While the media, the members of the Minister’s entourage and the RCN crew watch on, Gary takes the Minister on a personal tour through the recycling facility. Gary turns out to be a media star: a practical Kiwi bloke who is a gifted talker and is unphased by the TV camera pointed at his head.

The highlight of the tour is watching Gary split the leaded and unleaded glass of a television set. RCN are the only company in New Zealand who can do this, and they have designed their own splitter. It looks like a futuristic incubation unit with silver foiled tubes and wires sticking out of it. The TV set is placed inside the unit and the wires tightened around it. We all mask up very seriously, and then wait attentively. The minister squats down to get a closer look.  Seven minutes later we’re all still staring at the splitter and maintaining our quietly interested expresssions.

Gary hooks up the splitter

Waiting, waiting, waiting

And waiting a bit more

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, there is a tiny ping and the glass cracks and Gary raises the incubation lid to show the glass set broken in two. He picks up the leaded glass section and throws in dramatically into the leaded glass container. The radio and TV crew rush over and make him repeat the crash several times with their microphones closer. Everyone takes off their masks and there is a sour burning smell, which brings home the fact that every TV has 3kg of lead in it. If it wasn’t recycled, the lead would be heading for the landfill.

Radio NZ journalist interviews the Minister

The Minister polishes off a few quick interviews with Sky TV, Radio NZ and the Dominion Post, and takes his leave. The lovely Natasha, his private secretary, tells us quietly that the Minister has enjoyed his tour so much that he will try and squeeze in an appearance at the evening launch too. It’s obvious that the Minister is keen for e-Cycle to be successful, just like everyone else involved.

 

The evening launch is in the grand council chambers, and is watched over by portraits of all the previous Wellington mayors. Searancke Catering pass around delicious little nibbles as e-Cycle operators mingle with the RCN and CRN crew, council staff from Porirua and Wellington, Ministry for the Environment staff and Mana Recovery people.

Karen, Jon and Joe with Mayor Celia Wade-Brown and Environment Minister Nick Smith

Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown opens the launch, saying that she is often tempted to throw her cellphone and computer out the window,  but it makes much more sense to recycle them.  She does throw down something – a challenge to the Environment Minister Nick Smith to make progress on product stewardship.

 

The Environment Minister takes the stand and throws back a challenge to the Mayor – to get an e-Cycle depot open in Central Wellington. He announces the $1 million in new  funding and talks about e-Cycle being the next step on from eDay. He says it’s time for everyday recycling round the country. It’s obvious that there are no plans to fund another eDay.

Then the Minister talks about moving towards product stewardship – where manufacturers/importers of electronic waste are responsible for recycling it. There’s a buzz of excitement round the room. He goes on to suggest that there should be regulations to prevent e-waste being landfilled. There’s an even bigger buzz of excitement round the room.

Jon Thornhill (RCN manager for e-Cycle)and Karen take over to talk about e-Cycle, and where it’s going. Jon jokes that everyone thinks Karen is his wife. We all laugh, partly because Karen looks very dubious at that call. But it’s an apt metaphor for the blossoming relationship between CRN and RCN, especially as they were introduced to each other by the Ministry, on what was essentially a blind date.

Ben and Gael smile with Karen and Sheryl

The launch concludes with the presentation of training certificates in resource recovery to Ben Woolf from the Seagull Trust, Thames, and Gael Weir from Mana Recovery. Ben and Gael shake hands with the Minister, and then have to put up with endless photos being taken.

 

Once the formal part of the launch is over, everyone gets stuck into celebrating and swapping stories. It’s obvious that Karen and Jon have pulled together not only a network of e-Cycle depots, but also a network of people who are passionate about recycling e-waste and zero waste. People are drawing sketches of computer life-cycles on the back of air-tickets, swapping stories about volunteering overseas and coming up with new schemes for CRN. There’s a lot of work to do in the next year, starting tomorrow, but tonight is all about enjoying a high point together.

Sue and Cliff sign each other up for their latest scheme