UK residents could save the economy over £370m by recycling electricals

Media release

New Recycle Your Electricals campaign launches new “hidden treasure” research to raise awareness of the nation’s growing electrical waste problem and reveals the hidden value hiding in homes

●      UK households are hoarding 527 million small old electricals or “hidden treasures”, weighing around 190,000 tonnes and 155,000 tonnes of waste electricals are thrown away in general household rubbish each year, costing the UK economy over £370 million of lost valuable raw materials.

●      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.

New research estimates UK households are hoarding 527 millions small old electricals, an average of nearly  20 per household, and throwing away 155,000 tonnes of these items every year. This is contributing to one of the fastest-growing waste streams in the nation and in the world, estimated to cost the UK economy over £370 million of lost valuable raw materials such as gold, copper, aluminium and steel.

The new research “Hidden Treasures” conducted by Material Focus – a not-for-profit organisation – revealed UK householders could have made £17 billion from the second-hand re-sale value of small old electricals. Additionally, if all small old electricals that are currently hoarded in people’s homes or thrown away in general household rubbish each year were recycled, 2.8 million tonnes of CO2 emissions could be saved, the equivalent of taking 1.3 million cars off the road.

And the problem is set to get worse as waste electricals are one of the fastest growing waste streams in the world and the UK, losing some of the UK’s most valuable materials forever.

In a concerted effort to tackle this, Material Focus has recently launched the Recycle Your Electricals campaign, a new nationwide campaign calling on households to stop throwing away and hoarding their unwanted small old electricals – and start reusing and recycling them.

To illustrate the scale of the challenge, the Recycle Your Electricals campaign partnered with award-winning photographer Gregg Segal, known for his works of social commentary, to collaborate on a photographic project that captures a birds-eye view of images of UK residents and their old electricals or “hidden treasures”. Speaking about the project, Segal says: “It was a privilege to meet these people and capture their images, but it was also such an eye-opener to discover the extent of the problem. My work is all about shedding light on hidden issues and this project was about calling attention to the true problem of electrical waste by personalising it. My hope is that by sharing these photos, people will consider what they do next with their old electrical items – I know I will.”

Material Focus found in its “Hidden Treasures” research that the nation was holding on to a range of unwanted items, everything from kettles to hair straighteners, and electric toothbrushes to blenders. On average, these old small electricals are being kept in homes across the nation for up to two years and four months. The new research, which looked at homes across the UK, also discovered:

●      Top items stashed away included cables, speakers and laptops, totaling just over 200 million across the nation.

●      In the UK, 31 million laptops are currently hoarded [11] in homes, and if these laptops had been recycled, 980,000 tonnes of CO2emissions would have been saved, equivalent to taking 458,000 cars off the road – a significant contribution to the UK’s goal of net zero carbon by 2050.

●      In total, there are 140 million cables held in people’s homes across the nation – enough to go around the earth over 5 times.

75% of materials contained in small old unwanted electricals can be recycled, such as precious materials like gold, silver, aluminium and steel. This shows that if all the old laptops hoarded across the UK were recycled, they could provide enough aluminium to produce 159,000 bikes; enough steel to make 12,000 playground swings; or enough plastic to make nearly 5 million life-saving defibrillators.

Scott Butler, Material Focus, Executive Director, said:

“Our ‘Hidden Treasures’ research found that 45% of people across the UK are unaware that old electricals contain finite materials such as copper, gold, aluminium, steel and plastic. We know people want to do the right thing and recycle – it’s not a lack of good intentions, but rather the need for the right information and recycling facilities to do so. The Recycle Your Electricals campaign will do exactly that – make it easier to recycle by providing step-by-step information on how to reuse and recycle old electricals and more recycling facilities. We want everyone to know that all old electricals – that’s everything with a plug, battery or cable – can be recycled.”

Speaking on the new initiative, Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said:

With so many millions of small electricals not being correctly recycled or reused in the UK, we urgently need to recognise that raw materials are finite and every electrical item thrown in the bin or stashed in a draw is a waste of valuable resources. I am very pleased to be supporting this new campaign and will be looking around my home for unwanted electrical items which I can bag up and take to the local recycling centre. It’s important to hold on to items and not throw them in the bin if your local recycling centre has not yet re-opened.

“More broadly the government is committed to moving to a more circular economy, and we will be reviewing the regulations on electrical items to help drive up recycling, encourage better eco-design so products last longer and ensure manufacturers and retailers take more responsibility for waste electricals.”

Material Focus is making recycling small old electricals easier than ever before by launching an information hub for the UK, and making it easier for an additional 4.1 million households to access recycling facilities. The campaign is calling on UK householders to gather up their old unwanted electricals and then put them in a bag ready to be recycled once lockdown has lifted and local recycling facilities have reopened. A new postcode finder has launched on with details of over 2,000 recycling, repair and reuse points, with new collection and drop-off points being added to the site on an ongoing basis.

UK householders are invited to share pictures, videos and stories of themselves recycling small old electricals or Gregg Segal style selfie surrounded by their electricals using the hashtags #RecycleYourElectricals #HiddenTreasures #GreggSegal #Dontbinitbagit, tagging @RecycleYourElectricals on Facebook, Twitter @RecycleElectric on Twitter and @RecycleYourElectricals_ on Instagram.

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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.

* While 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.

Hidden Treasures Research

The new research highlights the vast scale of how many electrical products are being thrown away or hoarded in the UK. Hidden Treasures, commissioned by Material Focus, drew on three key studies that explored: how many electricals are being stored or thrown away in UK homes; the environmental impact; and the potential for these precious materials to be recycled into life-saving equipment, bikes and playground swings. Eunomia Research and Consulting, Anthesis and YouGov were commissioned to provide data and in-depth analysis that informed the results of the research.

YouGov Plc. Research conducted by YouGov and commissioned by Material Focus. Total sample size was 2,112 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 24th – 25th February 2020.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).

Eunomia Research and Consulting Ltd. Research conducted by Eunomia and commissioned by Material Change in February 2020. The purpose of the research was to provide new insights into the potential that old electricals could have when recycled, identifying the volume of materials either hoarded or thrown away, the lost carbon and the lost value to the UK economy, and what the materials inside electricals could be turned into. In order to achieve this, Eunomia used various in-depth research methods, starting with sales figures for the top 12 small household electrical items so as to target the most prolific items.

These items were then disassembled to identify the key materials and components by weight and thereby to calculate the related embodied carbon in the items, for the UK as a whole, and the net carbon benefits of recycling the materials in these items rather than throwing a proportion of them away to be landfilled. Eunomia then identified the equivalent number of cars that would have to be taken off the road to achieve the same effect, and the number of defibrillators, playground swings and roundabouts and bicycles that could be made with the predominant materials (plastic, steel and aluminium). Finally, the lost financial values were calculated based on the value of the waste materials and the residual value of the whole items if sold on second-hand markets.

Anthesis. Anthesis and partners Lancaster University, Repic and Valpak were commissioned by Material Change to investigate unreported flows of EEE and WEEE in the UK during 2019. Building on previous studies, they developed a robust inventory of the different routes by which EEE and WEEE flow through the UK economy, to relate to WEEE Directive target setting and as a basis for recommendations to improve recycling. The research team gathered data through primary research (e.g. surveys and sampling of household rubbish), stakeholder engagement, mathematical modelling and by reviewing the relevant literature.

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