Electronic waste – more recycling needs to be encouraged

1 min read

New research conducted by the not-for-profit organisation, Material Focus, has found that half a billion small, cheap electrical everyday items, such as headphones or handheld fans, found their way into landfill in the UK last year.

That’s massive and the scale of the issue has led the group to call for more recycling.

With half a billion cheaply priced electronic goods bought in the UK in the past year alone, the research from Material Focus showed that of these items, 471m were thrown away - 260m disposable vapes were discarded, 26m cables, 29m LED, solar and decorative lights, 9.8m USB sticks, and 4.8m miniature fans.

Described as “fast tech” by Scott Butler, executive director at Material Focus, he urged people to think carefully about buying some of the more, “frivolous … items in the first place.”

He said the items people bought were often “cheap and small”, and that consumers may not realise they contain valuable materials that could be salvaged if recycled.

Among those materials that can be found in these small electricals and then recycled are copper, lithium and stainless steel, which could be used in wind turbines, medical devices and electric vehicles.

Material Focus said that while people were used to the idea of recycling larger electrical items such as fridges, lots of smaller devices were left unused in houses.

For example, in the average UK home, the research found, there were four to five charging cables, two to three mobile phones, and two to three remote controls cluttering up cupboards.

The group said that it wants to get the message across that anything with a plug, battery or cable can be recycled.

The scale of the issue is certainly huge, and Material Focus said that it wanted to encourage the nation to recycle fast tech, “guilt-free and fuss-free.”

To that end, Material Focus has created an online tool to guide consumers to nearby recycling points.

UK citizens are thought to have spent more than £2.8bn on these cheap electrical products in 2022 alone, and Material Focus warned that it was just “the tip of the iceberg” when it comes to the growing issue of wasted electricals in the UK.

More than 100,000 tonnes of waste electricals are thrown away every year, and there are 880m electrical items of all kinds lying unused in UK homes.

The Material Focus survey of 2,000 people found that every year, the average UK adult buys nine electrical items cheaply and throws away eight. Some of the most likely items to be binned include mini speakers, handheld vacuum cleaners and step counters.