UK on track to become Europe’s biggest e-waste contributor

The UK is on course to becoming the biggest contributor to levels of e-waste in Europe over the next three years, according to research carried out by Spring.

The tech-recirculation service found that, if action is not taken, the UK will rival Norway, the current leading producer of e-waste globally, in the production of electronic refuse by 2023 – the UK will become the biggest e-waste producer in Europe per capita by 2024. Spring’s figures state that the UK produced a total of 1.6 million tonnes of e-waste in 2019, equating to approximately 23.9kg of waste per person, with the global figure sitting at around 53.6 million tonnes. The amount of waste per person will grow to 24.5kg per person by 2024, according to the research, whilst Norway’s figure drops to 23.9kg.

E-wasteOf the e-waste generated, it is estimated that 40 per cent is illegally exported to other countries to be dumped, where contaminants from the discarded devices can enter the water and food supplies of local communities.

It is also noted that the precious metals contained within the electronic equipment also end up in landfill, with the estimated worth of the disposed material equating to over £370 million in the UK alone. Many of these materials are finite to the point where they may run out by the turn of the century, which presents problems in that these metals are often used in essential technology such as wind turbines, solar panels, artificial joints, and pacemakers.

With only 2.5 per cent to 10 per cent of electronics in the UK currently being reused, Spring is advocating for the repair and reuse of pre-loved devices, pushing for Waste Electric and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) to be put back into circulation for further use. To facilitate this switch, Spring has begun introducing ‘kiosk-style pods’ across the country, which allow consumers to sell their devices on to third party buyers after being repaired and resold. The company has already rolled-out the scheme in Co-op stores throughout the nation and is planning on opening 250 new pods over the next year, with the ultimate aim of recirculating 100,000 devices annually.

Developments in extraction technology also see WEEE recycling becoming a viable alternative to the placement of e-waste into the general refuse stream. A recent partnership between the Royal Mint and Excir has seen the trialling of technology designed to retrieve and recycle precious metals from discarded devices that was previously lost to landfill.

James Seear, co-founder of Spring, commented: “We love tech – but the way we consume it needs to change. People don’t realise that leaving an unused device in a drawer is as bad as throwing it in the bin. That’s because rather than it being reused by someone else, it’s taken out of circulation and needs to be replaced with something new. As the tech in our homes grows, so does a mountain of electronic waste, which is having a catastrophic impact on the environment.”

Fellow co-founder, Tom Williams, said: “Creating a circular economy is key to living more sustainably and the first step is getting unused devices back into the world, taking them from preloved to reloved. At Spring, we make it super easy to sell your old tech and get it rehomed. The average household has around 20 old, unused devices hidden away – why not bring them to your local Spring pod, get some money for them, and help the environment along the way?”