Appetite for electronic trade-ins presents huge recycling and reuse opportunity – WRAP

Appetite for electronic trade-ins presents huge recycling and reuse opportunity – WRAP
There is a growing thirst among consumers for retailer electrical take-back and trade-in schemes, presenting a significant opportunity to reduce the amount of waste and environmental impact from electronic products, according to a new study by WRAP – ‘Switched on to Value: Powering Business Change’.

Around two million tonnes of electrical and electronic equipment is placed on the market in the UK every year, with 1.53 million tonnes going to waste in 2015.

And growing levels of consumption (predicted to rise by 19 per cent by 2020) are bringing with them huge environmental impacts: the total lifecycle impacts of the products purchased each year are equivalent to around 196 million tonnes of CO2 emissions, and WRAP states that those same products use around 1.3 million terajoules of energy across their lives.

However, WRAP, through its electrical and electronic equipment sustainability plan (esap), is attempting to help the electronics sector develop more sustainable business practices that could prevent around one million tonnes of waste a year, cuts CO2 emissions by 14 million tonnes and create £4.4 billion in financial benefit for the industry.

Consumer behaviour is a major determinant in the lifecycle impacts of electrical and electronic products, and as part of the esap programme, WRAP has studied the way people buy, consume and discard their electrical products – finding that there is an appetite among consumers for business models that enable them to return unwanted devices and appliances.

Research found that many consumers struggle to find convenient and accessible ways to recycle and reuse their unwanted goods. Fewer than 10 per cent surveyed by WRAP use household recycling schemes put on by councils, and over a third expressed concern about personal data being recovered when getting rid of their products.

Appetite for electronic trade-ins presents huge recycling and reuse opportunity – WRAP
The front page of the 'Switched on to Value' report
Because of this it is perhaps unsurprising that 83 per cent stated a preference for retailer take-back and trade-in schemes that provide customers with a convenient and secure disposal method.

One such example of a popular scheme is the Argos Gadget Trade-in, a programme launched in 2015 as part of WRAP’s REBus (‘Resource Efficient Business models’) project.

Through the programme, customers can return phones or tablets to Argos stores, where they are provided with an immediate quote and an Argos gift card loaded with the sum if they choose to sell. Items that have been traded in will then be refurbished in the UK and re-sold, or recycled for parts.

WRAP says these kind of models could offer a new channel for recyclers to recover unwanted electricals and partner up with re-use and refurbishments organisations.

The Furniture Re-use Network (FRN) has been working in partnership with DixonsCarphone since 2013 and has established a WEEE take-back framework that includes pick-up and drop-off services between reuse charities and DixonsCarphone stores. In 2016/17, the scheme helped 12,492 households, preventing over 1,275 tonnes of CO2 from harming the environment and saving households an estimate of around £2.3 million.

Responding to the WRAP report, Craig Anderson, CEO of FRN, said: “This could result in more equipment being collected in a manner that makes it fit for reuse and supply those that can’t afford new electrical appliances. If we can engage the public and businesses in the reciprocal benefits of WEEE take-back schemes and achieve easy access to reusable goods, there is opportunity for increased growth and prosperity. The FRN would encourage customers to use their local reuse charity for WEEE collections as well as inspire businesses to explore collaborations with the voluntary reuse sector to provide both financial savings and corporate social responsibility gains.
“The consumer’s behaviour when it comes to discarding waste can have a huge economic and social value – and this is shown through our on-going national retailer take-back arrangements with DixonsCarphone, IKEA and John Lewis. These arrangements offer a solution to the customer with an unwanted washing machine in their home, and a solution for a low-income household with no washing machine, putting the circular economy into action.”

Steve Creed, Director at WRAP, said: “As brands and retailers set up new business models it will mean new activities for the company, such as refurbishment, secure data wiping and recycling. They will need to set up supply partnerships with organisations that can help deliver these processes and reduce the investment risk. We envisage these relationships to be long and valuable for both – so developing the right partnership is essential.” 

Emerging trends

The 22-page report also looks at how emerging trends within the electronics sector could lead to problems or opportunities in the future.

Appetite for electronic trade-ins presents huge recycling and reuse opportunity – WRAP
Fitbits and other wearable tech are providing new issues for recyclers
These include the rising number of smaller electrical goods (80 million smart devices are expected to arise in the waste stream by 2022) and the increasing complexity of home appliances.

WRAP highlights new innovations like wearable tech (like Fitbits and smart watches) that are lighter and use fewer critical raw materials than other, conventional electricals, but present challenges for effective separation of components and value recovery.

The advent of the ‘smart home’, connected technology that make daily living easier through data collection and integration, like smart fridges, responsive lighting/heating and multi-technology products such as entertainment hubs, also brings with it problems, like an increase in demand for data eradication services and the need for greater consumer support and recycling and reuse streams.

WRAP is establishing a new re-use and recycling working group to look at these emerging challenges and discuss and identify ways forward.

The ‘Switched on to Value: Powering Business Change’ is available to read and download at the WRAP website.

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