Media release, 12th October 2023
To mark International E-Waste Day, new research reveals the UK threw away nearly HALF A BILLION small ‘FastTech’ electricals in the last year.
New research shows the UK’s consumption of small ‘FastTech’ electricals is becoming an issue set to outstrip Fast Fashion, in terms of the amount sent to landfill. ‘FastTech’ refers to everyday small electrical items, from headphones to cables, decorative lights to mini fans and even single-use vapes. These items often have a short lifespan and cost, on average, £4. This means they may be seen as ‘disposable’ (47% of us don’t expect cheaper electricals to last long), even when they’re not designed to be. This emerging issue is the tip of the iceberg of a bigger challenge of electrical waste in the UK, with the valuable materials contained inside these items – gold, aluminium, and lithium – lost forever when thrown away.
The in-depth study conducted by Material Focus as part of the Recycle Your Electricals campaign to mark International E-Waste Day (this Saturday 14th October) reveals over half a billion FastTech items were purchased in the last year alone – one every sixteen seconds. Nearly a half a billion of these (471m) end up in landfill per annum including: 260 million disposable vapes, 26 million cables (enough to go round the earth five times), 29 million LED, solar and decorative lights, 9.8 million USB sticks, 4.8 million mini fans and more!
Every year, the average UK adult buys nine FastTech items and throws away eight (90% thrown away), buying FastTech for a wide range of reasons from replacing a broken item (39% of UK adults) or as a fun novelty (8%). It’s no surprise, therefore, that some of the most likely items of FastTech to be binned include mini speakers, handheld vacuum cleaners and step counters.
With annual spend on FastTech passing the £2.8 billion mark for reportedly the first time in 2023, Material Focus is sharing a timely reminder that anything with a plug, battery or cable can be recycled. It’s never been easier or simpler to recycle your unwanted tech – any UK resident can find their nearest drop off point thanks to its Recycling Locator which has over 16,000 recycling points.
To highlight the vast amount of precious materials that are hidden inside electrical items that are being thrown away, the not for profit commissioned and worked with visual tech pioneer, Lumafield, on a series of fascinating 3-D CT scan images and video clips. The images show the surprising amount of precious materials contained in small electricals, from copper to lithium to stainless steel. Lumafield’s pioneering Neptune industrial CT scanner captured hundreds of X-ray images of each product from different angles, and its Voyager software reconstructed these images into 3D visual models that reveal both external and internal details.
Scott Butler, Executive Director, Material Focus, which runs the Recycle Your Electricals campaign, says, “FastTech is seriously rivalling Fast Fashion, and is causing similar headaches. People should think carefully about buying some of the more frivolous FastTech items in the first place. But as FastTech items are quite cheap and small, people may not realise that they contain valuable materials and will just pop them in the bin, meaning we lose everything inside them instead of recycling them into something new. We want to get the message across that anything with a plug, battery or cable can be recycled and there’s somewhere near you to do it. The scale of the issue is huge, but there’s an easy solution – just as the trend for recycling and repurposing fashion has grown and grown, we want to encourage the nation to recycle FastTech, guilt and fuss-free.”
FastTech is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to wasted electricals in the UK. Although, the total number of electrical items thrown away has decreased since 2017 (103 thousand tonnes of electricals are thrown away every year, down 34% partly due to lighter weight items) and more and more people are recycling (60% of people say they regularly recycle their electricals, up from 52% in 2021). However, a staggering 880 million household electricals are lying unused in UK homes. That’s a 67% increase compared to when the research was last conducted three years ago. The average household now has 30 items gathering dust!
Whilst as a nation we’ve got used to the idea of recycling our large electrical items like washing machines, fridges and TVs, there’s currently an incredible number of small unused electricals in cupboards, lofts, garages and under beds. Cables, mobile phones and headphones/earphones are the most likely to be lying dormant in homes across the country. In the average UK home, there are four or five charging cables, two or three mobiles phones and two or three remote controls cluttering up cupboards! Overall more and more electrical items are being thrown away or left unused, and the precious materials inside them such as gold, aluminium, lithium and copper are lost forever.
The valuable materials contained in any electrical item can easily have a second life through donation, or being recycled into new items with a surprising range of uses, such as wind turbines, life-saving medical devices or even children’s playground equipment and electric vehicles.
With the majority of Britons keen to do their bit to stop precious materials going to waste – and pre-Christmas clear outs on the horizon – now is the perfect time to tackle the electricals gathering dust in UK homes. To help ahead of International E-Waste Day, Recycle Your Electricals has also enlisted decluttering expert Vicky Silverthorn to share her top tips for sorting out e-waste (see below).
International E-Waste Day (IEWD) 2023 takes place on 14th October. The day aims to engage individuals, retailers, local authorities, businesses and communities to participate in this year’s campaign by encouraging everyone to recycle their electricals.
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Content available: Images and video from Lumafield, case study, decluttering tips
3D image scans picture credit/ caption: Recycle Your Electricals/Lumafield scans of materials inside electrical items.
3D image scans video credit/ caption: Recycle Your Electricals/Lumafield scans of materials inside electrical items.
For more information:
Notes to Editors:
IEWD was founded by the WEEE Forum, the international association representing producer responsibility organisations. The UK lead member is REPIC. IEWD is open to any one to participate. Stay tuned for more details on how your organisation can get involved and make a difference on International E-Waste Day by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Material Focus
Material Focus is a not-for-profit organisation whose goal is to stop the nation throwing away or hoarding all their old, small electricals. Material Focus is delivering the UK-wide Recycle Your Electricals campaign. The campaign is revealing the value hidden in electricals and is making 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 reuse and recycle.
The campaign is funded by producers of electrical appliances 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.
Lumafield is a US based startup that uses state-of-the-art industrial CT scanning technology to reveal the hidden complexity of everyday products. Lumafield’s Neptune scanner captures hundreds of X-ray images of an object from different angles, and its Voyager software reconstructs those images into a 3D model that can be visualized and analyzed. It’s the same fundamental technology as a hospital CT scan, and is used by engineers to identify and diagnose problems with products.
Why do people buy FastTech?
73% of adults have bought FastTech in the last year and they bought it…
What are people’s attitudes towards FastTech?
Which FastTech have we been buying and how much?
|% OF UK ADULTS WHO’VE BOUGHT THIS ITEM IN THE LAST YEAR
|AVERAGE NUMBER OF THIS ITEM PURCHASED BY EACH UK ADULT IN THE LAST YEAR
|HOW MANY THROWN AWAY IN THE LAST YEAR
|Cables (charging and disposable)
|Earbuds / cordless headphones
|Decorative lights (Christmas, Halloween, Diwali etc)
|Power / battery banks
|Headphones earphones with a cord
|Rechargeable electric toothbrushes
|Single use vapes
Which FastTech is most likely to be binned?
WASTED ELECTRICALS IN UK HOMES
As well as e-waste that’s binned, there are millions of unwanted electricals that are lying unused or broken in UK homes when they could be donated if working or recycled otherwise, including:
|AVERAGE NUMBER IN UK HOMES
DECLUTTERING TIPS FROM VICKY SILVERTHORN
To have a big clearout, get your rubbish bag, recycling bag, box for charity and box for any electrical recycling at the ready. You need somewhere to put things so you’re not tempted to just shove them back in the cupboard. If you are selling items on, be realistic as to how much time you have to get this done. You don’t want to end up storing bags and bags of resale belongings which you simply don’t have the time to sort, list and post.
Small wins are better than no wins!
It doesn’t matter how much you get through, as long as you follow a simple rule – only start an area you can complete. Work on it, complete it and then stop. If you leave an area unfinished at the end of the day, it can leave that defeated feeling and you may not want to begin again. The aim is to finish on a high – even tackling small areas can give you the biggest buzz.
Don’t let tech stop you in your tracks
Technology often makes people stop in their tracks when they’re having a clear out. Why don’t we want to get rid of it? Perhaps because it could still be useful or it cost a lot? See the potential if your old technology was donated or recycled. The alternative? It will sit in a box for the next ten years when it could be having a second life. Don’t forget to remove batteries from old electricals! These can be recycled separately.
Don’t make ‘bin’ your decluttering default
You may be surprised that the majority of things you clear out can be reused or recycled. Do some research and check out Recycle Your Electricals website – did you know even your old plugs and wires can be recycled? Clothes, shoes, books, wood, toys, ornaments, batteries, other small electricals – there is somewhere for all of it to go and you’re likely to have a drop off point near you – just check out their Recycling Locator which has a whopping 16,000 places you can recycle your electricals.
A simple snap can save a lot of space
Did you know a photograph of an object can spark the same memory as the actual object itself? This means you don’t always need to keep an item you are holding onto sentimentally! This is especially useful for bulky items you are only keeping because they have memories attached to them. Try taking a photograph and see how it makes you feel. It may help you let go and clear the space.
Vicky says: “A lot of people don’t know you can recycle electricals – anything with a plug, battery or cable, but it’s made so easy by using the Recycle Your Electricals Recycling Locator.
The key is to get started and stop seeing your home as one giant task that you have an urgency to complete. Chipping away at your home is a great way to declutter, so start with something small like a drawer or a shelf, nothing more.
People often get disheartened when they don’t initially get rid of as much as they’d have hoped to. Don’t worry if you feel like that. Letting things go can be a really emotional process. You can feel really attached to things sometimes, even if they’re just functional items with no sentimental attachment. Always revisit areas you have worked on days or weeks later and you’ll probably find you pick out additional items to go.”Sma
CASE STUDY – JOANNE BATTY, LEEDS
Joanne Batty, a self-proclaimed technology lover and mother of two from Leeds, loves buying the newest releases. She had around 40 older items at home cluttering up cupboards that she didn’t realise could be recycled. Joanne said: “I’ve always loved collecting the newest version of things but I didn’t realise how much space all my old tech was taking up – there’s no need for me to hang onto my boxes of unused computers and endless amounts of cables. I have so many chargers that are for items I also no longer have – why have I kept them? My children have multiples of so many FastTech items too, like fairy lights. To know that the unloved items can have renewed purpose and become valuable items for a second life is so rewarding. When it’s as easy as popping to a Recycling Centre round the corner, there’s no excuse for me to not make the effort and clear out my tech – my cupboards will be grateful for the clear out too.”
Case study: Joanne Batty [and her children Jasmine and Emma]
Credit: Simon Vine
Recycle Your Electricals’ case study Joanne Batty from Leeds didn’t realise electricals could be recycled.
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