Exide plant future in doubt

The future of a Wellington battery recycling plant is in doubt as waste is increasingly being sent overseas but Environment Minister Nick Smith says the international plants have better standards.

The Exide plant in Petone has been dogged by problems, including harmful lead emissions, an explosion and a fire. It has been convicted for breaching emission standards.

In Parliament, Green MP David Clendon raised concerns about sending waste overseas and whether New Zealand was meeting international convention agreements.

But Labour MP Trevor Mallard was more concerned about what was happening locally.

He suggested it would be better to export the waste rather than have it processed at Exide.

"A plant that has a history of explosions, causing damage to workers both by lead and the explosions, leakage at the boundary going into neighbours, a history of sickness of workers from lead poisoning, a history of dumping sludge in the Wainuiomata tip, then going into the Wainuiomata Stream."

Dr Smith agreed the company's record was "unacceptable".

"If we are to recycle the batteries in New Zealand, rather than export them, the Government needs to be satisfied that the facility is run by best world practice. The underlying issue for this Government is whether the batteries are recycled and processed in New Zealand or overseas and that those standards are proper and protect public health and the environment."

Mr Clendon said officials' advice was that New Zealand was not meeting its obligations under the Basel Convention to recycle locally.

"My preference is for these batteries to be recycled in New Zealand," Dr Smith said.

"Although I will need to be satisfied about the environmental standards, given the quite chequered record of the Exide Technologies plant in Petone. A further important consideration is the cost to consumers."

Batteries had been sent to the Philippines and Korea.

"The Basel convention differentiates between developing and developed countries. Ministry of Economic Development officials did inspect the Philippines facility. They advised me that the standards there are the same, or better, than those of our own plant in Petone."

The key concern was that waste was responsibly disposed of and not dumped on developing countries, Dr Smith said.

He had asked officials to prepare the terms of reference for a review of the issue and Exide would be consulted.

Mr Mallard accused Mr Clendon of asking questions posed by Exide's lawyer Mai Chen.




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