Urban Miners started selling second-hand computers and phones last year as part of their mission to repair, repurpose and recycle e-waste in Waipā. Volunteer Alan van Niekerk talks about the unprecedented demand for these refurbished goods and how the work that Urban Miners do meshes with his own values.
Not long after Urban Miners started collecting e-waste in Waipā, they realised that many of the laptops, computers and cell phones handed in for recycling were still in working order and could potentially be used for several more years.
As the pile of these devices grew, Urban Miners decided to see if there was any interest from the community in buying these items once they had been refurbished by a team of inhouse experts.
Volunteer Alan van Niekerk, who champions the Urban Miners market stall, says “We weren’t sure how it was going to go or whether there’d be a market for second-hand electronic equipment.”
Initial doubts were quickly dispelled as people turned up in droves to support the stall, including parents wanting affordable laptops for their school kids, older folk looking for smaller devices, or farmers after a second laptop for the milking shed.
Alan comments “I think it’s brilliant because it means that you get another 3 or 4 years out of them [electronic devices] and stop them from going to landfill.”
After a successful debut at the Tamahere Market in 2022, Urban Miners shifted the stall to the Cambridge Lions Market this year to be closer to home.
According to Alan the move has been a revelation. “I mean the first day it was miserable weather. That was one of the better days ever for us, and the second day was exceptional. We sold everything, all the laptops, and people kept on coming!”
The stall has also made Urban Miners more visible in the community and raised awareness about recycling e-waste.
“That’s one of the other benefits of the market really, is the amount of people saying they had no idea what we were doing” says Alan. Yet after visiting the stall, people have gone away and thought about it and started recycling their e-waste with Urban Miners.
Alan, originally from South Africa, works as a business unit manager for a global construction company. When he first heard about the voluntary work that Urban Miners was doing, it instantly appealed to him.
“First of all for the hands-on approach, which is physical collecting and processing and breaking down [of e-waste], and that to me makes sense. It’s a world I understand, but it’s also doing something to give back to the community and this country that has been very good to me.”
“Construction can be a dirty business and one that doesn’t necessarily preserve environments. It’s all about development and improving things for mankind but not necessarily for the future of our children. So this felt right to me. It was a way of making a contribution.”
Like many other corporations, Alan’s employer is starting to recognise the importance of sustainability and now require company laptops to be used for a minimum of 6 rather than 4 years.
“To produce one laptop, it takes 400 tonnes of material which has to be dug out of the ground, processed and which generates all sorts of waste and pollution. It’s insane! So that’s a big difference if they get another 50% of life out of each device they’re using. And I’m sharing what’s happening with Urban Miners with my company and they’re loving it!”
“To produce one laptop, it takes 400 tonnes of material which has to be dug out of the ground, processed and which generates all sorts of waste and pollution. It’s insane!”