Research has identified new measures that could deliver the most comprehensive understanding of UK electrical and battery flows and their contribution to a circular economy.

Media release, 24 February 2023

New research commissioned by Material Focus has identified a range of measures that could improve the way the UK measures and assesses the efficiency of its waste electricals and portable batteries systems.  Introducing these metrics would provide a more accurate and holistic view of the systems and help improve their performance in moving towards a circular economy. It will also help sector stakeholders to better tell the story of the challenges they are facing, and how they are working together to respond to these.

The current UK producer responsibility regulations for Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) and for Waste Batteries require the producers of electricals and portable batteries to report what electricals and batteries they sell by weight and by type of product.   The UK government uses this information to set collection and recycling targets and the regulations require producers to be responsible for financing the cost of collection, treatment, recycling and recovery of waste electricals and batteries.  The measures proposed in this research may also assist regulators in making better informed and more targeted interventions to help deliver greater circularity in these sectors.

Material Focus commissioned global strategic environmental, and engineering consulting company Ricardo to “Measure the success of the UK’s waste electricals and waste portable battery systems”.   The research identified that the current regulations are primarily focused on the weight of  electricals that are recycled, with limited consideration and measurement of waste reduction options such as, reuse, repair, and refurbishment. In addition, weight-based targets overlook the impacts and importance of circular design (designing out waste and pollution whilst keeping products in use for longer), changes in design due to technological advances, and the efficiency and quality of the recycling processes and their material outputs.

Scott Butler, Executive Director, Material Focus said: “This research has identified new measures that could deliver the most comprehensive understanding of electricals and portable battery flows and their performance within the UK circular economy to date.  Greater understanding of consumer behaviours will also provide essential information. Together these new metrics will provide information that can assist in targeting useful actions and interventions to improve the circularity of the waste electricals and portable batteries systems.”

The research identified a number of new UK metrics to improve the circularity of the waste electricals and portable batteries systems. Examples of these are:

  • Ongoing reporting of new electricals and batteries placed on the market by quantity as well as weight.  Currently the system  focuses on reporting primarily on weight.  Collecting data on weight and quantity of electrical items  and splitting this by more detailed categories of product, this will provide the most comprehensive understanding of the sector to date. This will assist with public communications (items are more meaningful than tonnes), understanding changes in the market (technology change and new product types) and will help in understanding what happens to those products after first use. Alongside the introduction of other changes this measure  could help identify interventions to improve the circularity of these products.
  • New reporting of materials recovered by weight. The full reporting of materials recovered through recycling will drive greater understanding of the efficiency of the UK system.  This will enable the system to potentially focus on specific materials, including precious and critical raw materials, and help identify and prioritise those of most benefit to the circular economy. It will also help identify and track where progress is or isn’t being made.  
  • Establishing national trackers to better understand consumer awareness and behaviours such as hoarding and binning of electricals and portable batteries.  This will ensure a more detailed understanding of where waste electricals and batteries are being ‘lost’ in the UK system. Ongoing monitoring by this metric will assist in determining interventions, such as consumer communications as well as the effectiveness of these interventions.
  • Establishing a national system to record the number and type of drop-off points for used electricals and batteries across the UK.  This will help target measures to improve consumer access to repair, donation and recycling services.  

A number of other potentially useful metrics were also identified which are worthy of future consideration for introduction. Examples include developing better metrics for monitoring the CO2 impacts of the electricals and portable battery systems, and the tracking and valuing of reuse and repair activities.  

The research estimated that the total cost to implement all the proposed metrics across all regions of the UK is approximately £170,000 per year.



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Research methodology

The first stage of this project was to develop a longlist of potential metrics to measure circularity more accurately in the UK waste electricals and batteries system. Ideas for these metrics were initially informed through a literature review of key publications and knowledge from previous studies. This was further supported by a stakeholder questionnaire sent out to a range of stakeholders via Material Focus’ advisory panel – to directly engage and gather ideas from stakeholders across the system for new/alternative metrics.

Following this, the metrics were initially assessed both quantitatively and qualitatively to produce an initial shortlist of metrics most pertinent to driving circularity. Stakeholder interviews were conducted to gather views on the shortlisted metrics and to understand how they could be implemented in practice. Ricardo then collaborated with Material Focus to agree on a Final Shortlist for recommendation, which best matched the original objectives of the project. The insight gained from the stakeholder interviews was then used to develop data collection plans for each of the key shortlisted metrics.

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.

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