Enterprising approach to recycling

Ross Nicolaou (left) and Glen Drinkwater disassemble computers for recycling at Cargill Enterprises. Photo by Craig Baxter.
Ross Nicolaou (left) and Glen Drinkwater disassemble computers for recycling at Cargill Enterprises. Photo by Craig Baxter.
Dunedin's e-waste recycling effort is gearing up.

Cargill Enterprises is teaming with computer recycling and refurbishing firm Remarkit to make good use of old and unwanted technology.

Chief executive Geoff Kemp says the company plans to be able to extend its computer recycling operation to the refurbishment of old computers in the next 12 months - once TV Takeback is out of the way - as part of the Ministry for the Environment-aligned Project Green.

Cargill Enterprises has been recycling computers for two years, in collaboration with the Dunedin City Council and Wellington-headquartered refurbishment specialist Remarkit, pulling apart abandoned technology to get to the copper wire and more precious metals, the silver and gold to be found in the circuit boards.

Much of what it rescues is sold offshore.

Moving into refurbishment will be a step up, Mr Kemp says.

''We have to set up a very secure area, that's the first thing.''

There will be swiped entry and exit points with surveillance cameras, because of the information that might potentially be stored on computers brought in for refurbishing.

Wiping the old drives must be done in a controlled environment, in an audited process. Even a hard drive that is pulled out and smashed must be tracked so there is a certificate of destruction.

''Thirty-five to 40% of the equipment that comes in has the potential to be reused,'' Mr Kemp says.

''So that's quite high.''

It will mean doubling the number of people employed in the computer recycling operation from four to eight.

''Recycling of e-waste is going to be quite an important wing of this business, to keep it alive.''

Mr Kemp says there is plenty of potential, as there are some big technology users in the city.

The University of Otago is the king.

''There's probably about 5000 units a year come out of there,'' Mr Kemp said, including PCs, laptops, notebooks, phones and printers.

''While they don't have a high value, they still have a value and there are still small businesses that would welcome that sort of equipment.''

A spokeswoman for the university estimated 4.5 tonnes of e-waste from the institution was recycled during 2012.

Further down the road, Mr Kemp sees Cargill Enterprises moving into recycling other forms of e-waste, rescuing the coils and elements from old jugs, disassembling microwaves to realise the valuable bits.

''If you can carry it, you will be able to bring it in here and we will be able to process it.''

Remarkit founder and managing director Tim Findlay was one of the early innovators in New Zealand's e-waste industry, and has been in the game for 14 years now.

He says Cargill Enterprises will provide a redistribution point for computer hardware.

''What we are keen to do with Cargills is link with a local entity to try to pump equipment through the local community, so it can benefit the community.''

Once the computers have been refurbished, Remarkit provides a warranty to keep the equipment in use and make sure it is up to a certain standard.

''Everything to promote the elongation of reuse of that particular item.''

A refurbished three- or four-year-old computer should be good for about the same length of time again, he said.

Government departments and many large corporates tend to be quite conscientious in terms of working with outfits like his to recycle their technology, Mr Findlay said.

Remarkit and other similar operations probably account for several hundred thousand units a year, he estimates.

Much of the refurbished hardware then goes offshore, as the New Zealand market is limited by its size.

Some of Remarkit's refurbished computers go to the Computers in Homes programme, which, as the name suggests, puts computers in the homes of lower-income families.

Dunedin Computers in Homes co-ordinator Janine Moore says about 100 families get a computer through the programme a year, mostly from Remarkit.

Nationally, it places about 1500 computers a year.

The Government recently put another $1.6 million into Computers in Homes, enough for another year and another 1500 computers.

Drop it off
Computers can be dropped off directly to Cargill Enterprises in Hillside Rd during office hours for recycling.