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Over 200,000 tonnes of business electricals are currently thrown away in the UK

New research, published by Material Focus, has found that up to 234,000 tonnes of electricals are being incorrectly disposed of by businesses and other organisations in the UK every year.  The research follows earlier research, published by Material Focus, that identified that UK householders are throwing away 155,000 tonnes of electricals per annum. 
The Business Electrical Waste: Challenges and Opportunities report, researched by Eunomia, has found that up to 484,000 tonnes of electricals were bought by businesses and other organisations during 2019, including phones, IT and appliances such as dishwashers and washing machines. This is nearly 30% of the total of 1.7 million tonnes that were bought by both consumers and businesses in the UK during 2019.  
The research also found that:

 

  • At least 108,000 tonnes of business electricals are currently being recycled through Approved Authorised Treatment Facilities (AATFs);
  • Up to 200,000 tonnes of business electricals are being thrown away with general waste;
  • Up to 109,000 tonnes of business electricals are being recycled with light iron at scrap metal processors, instead of going through AATFs, which often means that some valuable materials don’t get recycled; 
  • Up to 29,000 tonnes of business electricals are being illegally exported;
  • And up to 5,000 tonnes of business electricals are being fly tipped, with clean-up costs often being paid by local authorities.  

 

The carbon benefits of recycling business waste electricals, compared to the manufacture of products using the equivalent amount of virgin materials, were also analysed.  If all the business waste electricals sold in 2019 were eventually recycled, 663,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions could be saved.  By comparison, for those electricals from businesses  that are currently being recycled, only 175,000 tonnes of CO2e were saved.

 

Scott Butler, Executive Director, Material Focus said: “This research highlights the huge benefits if more businesses were to recycle or re-use all of their unwanted electricals.  With up to 200,000 tonnes of business electricals being thrown away each year, we are losing forever precious and critical raw materials that the UK economy is reliant upon.  Instead these electricals should be reused, donated to those in need or the materials they are made from recycled and used in new products.”

 

Mark Hilton, Head of Sustainable Business at Eunomia said:  “Business waste electricals have long since been the Cinderella of the waste electricals sector, which has been focused on meeting household collection targets. This report highlights that the amount of electricals sold to businesses is far greater than previously thought, and that there is a need to better track where the products go during their lifecycle, and to ensure that all business waste electricals are separately collected, and recycled by AATFs. This could offer very significant benefits in terms of meeting UK recycling targets, whilst also offering large carbon and wider environmental benefits.”    

 

The report found that the amount of electricals bought by businesses is considered to be far higher than that previously estimated, moving from 18% of the market to 28%.  One reason for this is that businesses, such as corporate offices, house-builders and residential landlords, are estimated to be buying consumer household electrical appliances in very significant quantities for use in their premises, and this aspect hadn’t been covered in previous research.

 

Businesses under the Environmental Protection Act 1990  have a duty of care to responsibly dispose of all their waste materials, including electricals. Waste electricals from businesses should be reused where possible, such as donating to local reuse organisations, passing onto staff or working with Information Technology Asset Disposition (ITAD) organisations to handle their end of life IT equipment. Where reuse isn’t possible, electricals should be recycled by an AATF.  Businesses should first look to the producer of their electricals, who often have a responsibility to take back these electricals at end of life. Where this isn’t possible, they should make arrangements with professional waste collectors, such as commercial waste companies or local authorities, or direct arrangements with specialist electrical recyclers (AATFs), to make sure that their unwanted electricals are appropriately recycled.

 

The research analysed up-to-date national statistics data, some of which had been referred to in previous research, but extended this further to include surveys and stakeholder engagement with producers, trade associations, compliance schemes, retailers, public sector organisations, waste contractors, AATFs and other groups. The research also obtained previously unpublished data from some of these groups, which helped to provide a more accurate picture of flows of goods within the system. 

 

Overall the research concluded that whilst the work improved overall understanding of business electricals purchasing and recycling and disposal, better reporting is needed across the full lifecycle of business electricals, including reuse stages. It also highlighted that businesses and other organisations would benefit from clear information on why and how they can reuse or recycle their electricals.
 
Research methodology – The research used a series of methods including literature reviews, published datasets on the amount of products put on the market, two sampling studies at WEEE and metals recyclers, site data from waste transfer stations, extensive stakeholder interviews and surveys, as well as a carbon assessment to model the carbon impacts across different WEEE categories  to estimate current emissions and potential savings.
About Material Focus and the Recycle Your Electricals campaign 
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 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) 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.
About Eunomia Research and Consulting

Eunomia Research and Consulting Ltd is a fully independent UK environmental consultancy, with over 120 staff in the UK, EU, US and New Zealand, covering most key disciplines and topics – from policy research and evaluation, through practical operational resource efficiency, to business strategy for net zero carbon. Product policy development and implementation is a particular area of focus, including EPR and related policy instruments, to drive a more circular economy, for everything from electrical equipment and batteries, to tyres, mattresses and textiles; and the packaging for those products. Their clients include national and supra-national governments and agencies, plus many multinational corporations, including some of the world’s leading brands and retailers. 

2018