Materials

200,000 tonnes of UK business electricals thrown away annually

UK businesses and other organisations are incorrectly disposing of 234,000 tonnes of electricals a year, according to a new report published by Material Focus, an industry-backed not-for-profit to reduce and recycle waste electricals. 

E waste mountainThis follows the organisation’s previous findings that identified that UK householders are similarly throwing away 155,000 tonnes of electricals per annum.

The report, Business Electrical Waste: Challenges and Opportunities, states that in 2019 businesses and other organisations purchased up to 484,000 tonnes of electricals. This included phones, IT and appliances, accounting for almot 30 per cent of the total 1.7 million tonnes of electrical and electronic goods sold in the UK during 2019.

The research undertaken by consultants Eunomia 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
  • Up to 5,000 tonnes of business electricals are being fly tipped, with clean-up costs typically falling on local authorities. 

According to the Material Focus report, if all the business waste electricals sold in 2019 were eventually recycled, 663,000 tonnes of CO2e emissions could be saved. In comparison, of those electricals from businesses that are currently being recycled, only 175,000 tonnes of CO2e were saved.

The amount of electricity bought by businesses is considered to be far higher than previously estimated, moving from 18 per cent to 28 per cent, the report says. This may be due to businesses, such as corporate offices, house-builders and residential landlords, which are estimated to be buying consumer household electrical appliances in very significant quantities for use in their premises. This aspect had not been covered in previous research.

The reported market share of electrical equipment bought by businesses (28 per cent) is much higher than previously estimated (18 per cent). This may be due to businesses, such as corporate offices, house-builders and residential landlords, which are estimated to be buying consumer household electrical appliances in very significant quantities for use in their premises. This dimension has not been covered in previous research.

Under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 businesses have a duty of care to responsibly dispose of all their waste materials – including electricals. Waste electricals from businesses should be reused where possible, for instance, 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 Approved Authorised Treatment Facility (AATF). 

Material Focus’ research recommends that businesses first look to the producer of their electricals, who may 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), so that their unwanted electricals are appropriately recycled.

The research was obtained by analysing up-to-date national statistics data and extending this to include surveys and stakeholder engagement with producers, trade associations, compliance schemes, retailers, public sector organisations, waste contractors and AATFs. It also consisted of previously unpublished data from some of these groups, which Material Focus says 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.

Scott Butler, Executive Director, Material Focus commented: “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 added:  “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.”