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Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Exporting - a dilemma

Should there ever be any dilemma over exporting - isn't all exporting 'a good thing'?

Located in Petone, New Zealand, the Exide Technologies company operates a plant for the recycling of batteries.   The Company has been accused of breaching emission limits and endangering the health of nearby residents.  This post is not about the rights and/or wrongs of that.

Since 2008, 100,000 tonnes of toxic lead acid batteries have been exported to Korea and the Philippines, rather than being recycled in New Zealand.   With the possibility that four further direct shipments out of New Zealand will get the green light, it is likely that the Exide plant will close because there is not enough work to keep it going.   Dilemma 1:  Exporting, generally thought to be good, may in this case cause the closure of a local plant with loss of jobs.

Under the Basel Convention the Government has an obligation to ensure the availability of safe and adequate disposal facilities, if possible within our own borders.   Dilemma 2: It seems as though we shouldn't be exporting this material but should be trying to recycle it within New Zealand, and there is a plant available which can do the job.   That however would stop the export trade, and that would be bad for our balance of payments right.   Exide say that the export of batteries is unlawful and have written to the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment.

The Company says that little has been done to assess the environmental safety of plants overseas.   Dilemma 3:   Are we exporting our toxic problems to other countries?  Should New Zealand send this or any hazardous waste to any other country?  Is it the right thing to do?     Isn't this the equivalent of sending nuclear waste elsewhere - and we all think that is wrong.

Export permits had been issued by the Ministry of Economic Development until July1, subject to satisfaction that overseas plants are meeting correct standards.   Dilemma 4: Maybe the Ministry shouldn't have been issuing the export permits without more information.

If New Zealand continues to export batteries for recycling, it may cause the Exide plant to close.  Then if the export market dries up, we are left with no plant which can do this work.   Dilemma 5: The export trade in this product may leave NZ without the ability to do what it has committed itself to do under international agreements.

Exporting the batteries rather than recycling in New Zealand, reaps a higher profit for companies.   Dilemma 6:  This is not an uncommon problem - the local activity doesn't get as high a price as the overseas one.   Do we use positive discrimination to support local industry as opposed to exporting?

The Exide Technologies Ltd website is at: http://www.exide.co.nz/ but there is no information about this activity.   The Company's application for a continuation of its resource consent  and report on process details to the Wellington Regional Council dated April 2011   http://www.gw.govt.nz/assets/Resource-Consents/Manson-Report-on-Process.PDF     is however a more informative document.   In it they say that the service they provide is of national importance, and that if the plant closed ULABs (used lead acid batteries) would have to be exported as hazardous waste or would accumulate in the environment.

Are we committed to exporting and exports at any price?  Conversely are we committed to recycling in New Zealand at any price?

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