Survey suggests UK prefers to replace electronics rather than repair
Online retailer eSpares, which conducted the survey, has revealed that 75 per cent of respondents preferred to discard their broken appliances and replace them with new models, rather than getting them repaired. Over 55s were the most likely to buy new replacements, with only 19 per cent saying they would fix an appliance.
Often these discarded products go straight into general waste with little awareness of the environmental impact – it is estimated that around 1.4 million tonnes of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) is thrown away each year in the UK. WEEE can contain up to 60 different metals and chemicals that are hazardous to the environment if disposed of incorrectly in landfill.
The survey follows a recent report from the Royal Society of Chemistry, which showed that 45 per cent of UK residents surveyed have up to five unused electronic devices in their home, with 82 per cent of these having no plans to recycle or sell on their devices. Partly, this is down to fears about data and security, but almost a third of people surveyed said they didn’t know where to go to recycle old tech – whether they had to take it to a Household Waste Recycling Centre or could leave it for collection at the kerbside.
In June 2019, Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) launched an inquiry into the UK’s management of WEEE, with the aim of using the evidence acquired in order to create a circular economy for electronic goods. One of the questions raised in the inquiry was: Is UK public awareness of e-waste recycling satisfactory, and if not, how can it be improved?
“It’s a terrifying issue that we can’t continue to ignore”
The report from eSpares would indicate that public awareness is not satisfactory. Ad Casey, head of brand at eSpares, said: “With the headlines dominated by ocean plastics, e-waste has seemingly slipped under the radar.”
There has been a lot of focus on the environmental issues surrounding other types of waste – coffee cups and plastic straws, for example – but there remains confusion over what to do with household appliances and devices at the end of a product’s life. Different councils have different collection guidelines and information on repairs is not widely available or accessible for many members of the general public.
“However, with every UK resident creating almost 15 kilogrammes of e-waste per annum, a collective national weight 100 times heavier than the Eiffel Tower,” said Casey, “it’s a terrifying issue that we can’t continue to ignore.”
Indeed, the UK has been consistently missing targets for e-waste collection, which are managed under the EU WEEE Directive and WEEE Regulations 2013. Both the 2017 and 2018 targets were not reached, with figures from the Environment Agency revealing that across the 2018 calendar year, UK missed its WEEE collection target of 537,065 tonnes by 44,500 tonnes.
Making repair easier
In addition to more comprehensive information about how to recycle e-waste being made available to the public, other solutions are needed to prevent items from being thrown away in the first place – whether this is finding a new owner for a gadget after an upgrade using sites like eBay and Freecycle, or utilising eSpares’ #FixFirst hints and guides to repair a damaged device rather than just replacing it. By fixing 10 per cent of mendable appliances, eSpares suggests that thousands of tonnes of electrical items could avoid landfill.
50 per cent of those surveyed thought that fixing appliances would be more expensive than buying new products. On the contrary, Casey stated: “Curbing e-waste is easier than you may think. Fixing appliances is quick, cheap and the more logical solution than relying on landfill.”
While repair may indeed be the logical solution to reduce waste, it is not always so quick and cheap. EU legislation passed in January 2019 will obligate producers to make their products easier to repair, but campaigners have expressed their dismay that repair professionals will retain the right to conduct most repair operations, rather than independent repairers or individuals.
The new legislation states that producers will have to make most spare parts and manuals available to professionals only, while the original proposals, from September 2018, would have made spare parts available to consumers, retailers and repairers for 7-10 years, and manuals accessible to independent repairers.