Young people more likely to sell than recycle electronics, says REPIC

Under 30s prefer to sell their old electrical items rather than recycle them, a survey by compliance scheme REPIC has revealed, news that could have implications for how the recycling of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) is measured and recorded.

REPIC, the UK’s largest compliance scheme for WEEE, commissioned the survey to better understand what happens to electronics past the point of sale, and whether reporting on WEEE could be improved.

Two people using tablet computers
The most popular items to sell amongst those aged between 16 and 29 are televisions (41%), followed by iPads and Kindles (34%)
The survey of 1,000 homeowners found that those aged between 16 and 29 were less likely than the over 60s to recycle electronic items that are either broken or simply unused. Online second-hand goods sites like eBay, Gumtree and Facebook Marketplace are the favoured resale channels, with young people valuing their used electronics at a much higher price than older age groups.

These results are significant in light of the UK’s poor recent record on WEEE recycling, as they highlight a growing portion of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) that is not recorded as recycled because it stays in the economy being resold and reused, therefore passing outside of the reported producer compliance scheme (PCS) system.

Recycling targets are created based on the amount of new EEE that is placed on the market, and the recycling rate is calculated by dividing the tonnage of WEEE reported by PCSs by the amount of EEE placed on the market that year. The UK missed its overall WEEE recycling target in 2017 by around 100,000 tonnes – meaning compliance schemes had to pay £8 million in fees to the government – and is predicted to have missed it again in 2018.

With recycling rates struggling, many in the industry have suggested that current methods of measuring WEEE collection and recycling are not optimal, as they don’t take into account other destinations for EEE outside of reported channels, and that the amount of EEE placed on the market may not directly correspond to the amount of WEEE recycled that same year.

REPIC states: ‘Whilst finding a legitimate second, third, or multiple life for unwanted electrical items should be encouraged, this information is not currently captured or reported in the official data as WEEE.’ In short, the sale of a new product does not always result in an old product being recorded as WEEE: with a growing amount of EEE being resold and used second hand, items are staying in the economy for longer before being recorded as recycled. This suggests that basing each year’s recycling targets on the amount of EEE placed on the market each year may not be the most appropriate way of setting WEEE recycling targets.

Mark Burrows-Smith, REPIC Chief Executive, said: “Understanding the channels where the ‘hands-on’ of EEE is occurring after its first use is an important issue. Being able to do so helps us to paint a clearer picture of the use phase of EEE, before it arrives at recycling centres. This intelligence helps to further inform recycling targets based on new EEE sales, and how we can work together to encourage positive environmental behaviour, while cracking down on illegitimate activity and bad practices.

“The findings show us that there is much left to do in building meaningful strategies for better data capture. Ultimately, the targets still need to be met, therefore, we must come up with ways of meeting them. And the starting point is through gaining greater intelligence.”

This study further confirms the results of a project launched by REPIC back in 2017, which aimed to gather data on WEEE flows in partnership with the University of Lancaster. The objective of the project was to develop a proposal for a new EEE and WEEE forecasting model, which could be used to inform future government policy on WEEE recycling. The project ran until July 2018 and highlighted a ‘clear knowledge gap’ when it comes to WEEE data which needs to be improved before a new model and targets can be developed.

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