UK electrical waste mountain growing


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UK households and businesses produce 1.45 million tonnes of electrical waste each year, research shows.

The e-waste research organisation Material Focus calculates that at least 500,000 tonnes of the waste were thrown away, stolen or hoarded.

Its latest study suggests un-recycled household electricals cost the UK over £370m a year in lost materials like gold, copper, aluminium and steel.

This is important because mining the metals leads to pollution.

It also harms wildlife and fuels climate change.

Material Focus has a postcode locator for people to find their nearest e-waste recycling point for items such as toasters and old cables.

What about my photos?

The report says many people hang on to old laptops and phones because they hold photos or sensitive data.

It suggests one answer is to ask mobile phone shops to transfer data and return old phones to factory settings in front of you.

Reputable repair shops could also wipe data for you – at a price. Some charity shops will also take e-waste such as phones.

There will be another option from January, when a new rule means you’ll be able to hand back to any major shop an aged kettle, say, or toaster when you buy a new one. Some stores offer this already.

The increase in electrical waste has been relentless as the population has grown and new consumer electronics reach the market.

Many of the new purchases are not replacements for existing kit, but innovative consumer goods that weren’t available previously, such as smart speakers.

Waste figures ‘enormous’

The academic lead for the study was Alison Stowell at Lancaster University. She told BBC News: “These figures on electrical waste are quite enormous.

“When we consume things, we don’t tend to think about how much material is in them or how valuable they could be if they are put back into the production and supply chain through recycling.”

The report says 1.65 million tonnes of electricals were sold in the UK in 2017, with 155,000 tonnes dumped in domestic bins and subsequently incinerated or sent to landfill.

Mark Hilton from the consultancy Eunomia told BBC News: “The UK is still failing to meet its target of collecting 65% of electricals.

“It’s often too hard for people to get to a recycling centre, many of which are only accessible by car. We’d like to see small waste electricals collected alongside other recyclables from the doorstep.”

Take-back vouchers urged

He also wants incentives offered such as cash-back or store vouchers for unwanted electrical goods – which could help encourage people back to the high-street.

And he says it’s critical for ministers to oblige online platforms, like Amazon, to take far greater end-of-life responsibility for items their sellers put on the market, through perhaps secure deliveries.

That issue is now being discussed by the government. A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said: “We are committed to moving to a more circular economy.

“We will be reviewing the regulations on electrical items to help drive up recycling, encourage better eco-design and ensure manufacturers and retailers take responsibility for waste electricals.”

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