Europe and UK fastest growing electrical waste stream in the world – Material Focus response

2 July 2020

The Global E-waste monitor has launched today their annual report analysing the international growth of E-waste.  £7.9bn of gold, platinum and other precious metals are dumped every year in the growing mountain of electronic waste according to the new Global E-waste monitor.  54m tonnes of “e-waste” was generated worldwide in 2019, up 21% in five years, the UN’s Global E-waste Monitor report found. The 2019 figure is equivalent to 7.3kg for every man, woman and child on Earth, though use is concentrated in richer nations. The amount of e-waste is rising.  Northern Europe is one of the world’s largest producers of electrical waste at 22.4 kg per capita, however, it has one of the highest rates of recycling in the world at 59%.  And the UK is generating 1.6 million tonnes of electrical waste annually, one of the highest in Europe, on a par with Germany.  

Electrical waste, such as laptops, phones, charging cables, and appliances contain valuable materials such as gold, aluminum and copper.   Material Focus, a new UK not for profit, whose goal is to increase recycling of electrical waste in the UK,  recently found that  the UK economy could save £370 million if all the small old electricals that are either thrown away or hoarded in UK homes were recycled. 

In response to the Global E-waste monitor’s report Material Focus has issued the following statement.   

Scott Butler, Executive Director, Material Focus said:  “According to the Global E-waste Monitor, Europe and the UK are one of the biggest producers of electrical waste, it’s vital therefore that we all take action now to recycle our electricals.  Material Focus research has identified that in the UK, we are throwing away or hoarding 490,000 tonnes of domestic and commercial waste, and this is set to grow.  Of this alone, UK households are throwing away 155,000 tonnes of domestic electrical waste every year and we are hoarding 527million small old electricals (weighing around 190,000 tonnes) – nearly 20 items per household.  In addition, 145,000 tonnes of commercial and industrial waste is also being thrown away.  We have launched the Recycle Your Electricals campaign which is calling on UK households to stop throwing away their electricals and instead start recycling them.”  

Material Focus’s research also found:

  • 2.8 million tonnes of CO2  emission could be saved, equivalent to taking 1.3 million cars off the road if all our old small electricals that are being thrown away or hoarded were recycled
  • The total number of cables hoarded in UK homes (140 million) could circle the earth more than 5 times
  • UK householders could have made £17 billion from second hand re-sale value of their hoarded electricals – around £620 per household
  • Our best estimate, based upon existing data is that the UK is reusing and recycling around 60% of electrical waste across household and commercial waste.   

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About Material Focus 

Material Focus (formerly the WEEE Fund), is a not-for-profit organisation whose goal is to stop the nation throwing away or hoarding all their old small electricals. It has launched the new UK-wide Recycle Your Electricals campaign. The campaign will reveal the value hidden in electricals and will make it easier for us all to recycle and reuse the small electricals we no longer need by providing more recycling points as well as providing practical information on how households can recycle.

The campaign is funded by producers of electrical appliances. The UK government sets annual targets for the recycling of all waste electricals, including small electricals. If producers of electrical appliances don’t meet this target, then they contribute towards a fund (WEEE Fund).  During 2017 and 2018 £10.6 million was collected for the fund, which pays for a range of activities, including communications, behaviour change activities, increased recycling projects and research. Ultimately the aim is to support actions that will help the UK increase the levels of reuse and recycling of waste electricals.

* Whilst the UK is in lockdown due to Covid-19, Material Focus advises checking the opening times for local recycling facilities and following government social distancing advice.

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