Consumer NZ investigation finds appliances with minor faults dumped into landfill

An illustration of an electronic dump
New Zealand has one of the highest per capita e-waste rates per person. Photo credit: Getty Images

A Consumer NZ investigation has found that some retailers are dumping small appliances with minor faults directly into landfill, even when nearly new.

The organisation said that's not acceptable, particularly given Aotearoa's poor track record with electronic waste.

"A manufacturer's business is to sell new appliances. They don't want the inconvenience of dealing with those appliances when they are unwanted and unbroken," said Paul Smith, head of testing at Consumer NZ.

"Providing for repair is too difficult, or too costly, so they have two options – throw them into landfill or pay someone else to deal with it. Landfill is the cheapest option, but we don't think it's acceptable."

Smith said we live in a world where nearly-new appliances can be thrown straight into a hole in the ground at the first sign of a fault.

"New Zealand has one of the highest per capita e-waste per person in the world and we're the only country in the OECD without a national e-waste scheme. Something needs to change," he added.

For its investigation, Consumer NZ bought benchtop mixers from Kmart, The Warehouse, Briscoes and Farmers, before creating easy-to-fix faults by removing a power wire from the control board.

Tracking devices were then placed in each of the mixers and they were returned to the store of purchase, Consumer NZ said.

At both Kmart and The Warehouse, neither of the $80 mixers were opened and a refund was offered, with the Kmart employee telling the incognito Consumer NZ team member, "we just throw faulty stuff in the bin".

At Briscoes, the sales assistant told the team a Breville rep would take a look and "not to worry, it won't just get thrown in the landfill".

The $740 Kenwood mixer purchased from Farmers broke upon second use, before the Consumer NZ test team was able to tamper with it, the organisation said.

It started emitting noises that sounded like "agricultural machinery". At Farmers, the Kenwood was unboxed and turned on and a replacement Kenwood was provided.

According to the organisation, it took around four months for all of the mixers to get to their final resting place.

Both the mixers from The Warehouse and Kmart went to landfill, while the Breville mixer from Briscoes was placed at Appliance Outlet, a reseller of used and refurbished goods.

The Kenwood mixer from Farmers eventually made it to an e-waste recycler.

Consumer NZ asked the Warehouse why its mixer went straight to landfill, seemingly against its "sustainable and affordable" message. 

A spokesperson told the organisation they were "investigating this incident further and reviewing our processes as in this case, we haven't got it right, as this item may have been able to be repaired or recycled".

Neither Kmart or the DēLonghi Group, responsible for the Kenwood brand, responded despite "multiple attempts" at contact, Consumer NZ said.