Investing in innovation: how Material Focus is making it easier for the UK to recycle their electricals
Blog written by Scott Butler, Executive Director, Material Focus
We buy more and more electricals every day – but too often the old stuff we no longer want, use or need is thrown away in household bins. We throw away a staggering 155,000 tonnes of electricals every year in the UK, and hold onto around £5.6 billion worth in our homes. This is contributing to one of the fastest growing sources of waste in the world and the UK: electrical waste.
Discarded, unwanted electricals that are not properly handled pose a major threat to the environment and human health. Our latest research revealed there were over 700 fires in the waste stream last year, caused by electricals with hidden batteries being binned. This signifies one of many examples of the impact that throwing electricals away can have on the environment. Electricals also contain some of the most sought-after resources on the planet, like gold, silver, copper, lithium, palladium and platinum, which are lost forever if they’re thrown away.
When it comes to recycling, most of us want to do the right thing. Almost 80% of people think recycling their electricals is the right thing to do, but only 45% of people think it’s easy. The current Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment recycling system (WEEE) is complicated, with inconsistent collection methods for electricals across the country. Approximately only 15% households have kerbside collections for electricals, which is considerably lower than other products and materials that we recycle on a regular basis. Those in non-kerbside locations are encouraged to recycle their electricals mainly at recycling centres that can often only be reached by car, and more rarely bring banks and libraries. Some retailers will take anything back without a need for purchase, while other retailers will only take back with a purchase of a similar product. If services are difficult and confusing for householders to access, then the evidence is clear that electricals will continue to be binned.
Making it easier to recycle electricals is key to ensuring that more electricals get recycled, and this should never be overlooked. This must then be supported by ongoing consumer information to raise and maintain awareness. Our latest fund aims to find ways to make it easier for UK householders to recycle their electricals. With £2.5 million funding available, the Electricals Recycling Fund will seek out ways to increase collections of electricals to millions more households and test creative, practical and scalable new methods for collecting electricals that could produce significant environmental benefits in the future. Material Focus has funded 17 projects to support the increase in recycling of electricals from UK households. In areas such as East Sussex, Surrey and Gloucester this has led to a surge in the amount of electricals being recycled.
The Electricals Recycling Fund provides an exciting opportunity to make it easier for millions more people to recycle their electricals from their doorsteps and to test innovative ways to tackle one of the fastest growing waste streams in the UK and globally. We are really looking forward to working with a range of organisations on finding some interesting and innovative solutions that will increase the recycling of electricals in the UK.