Resource Use

WRAP unveils details of Sustainable Electricals Action Plan

Image taken from WRAP's 'Switched on to Value' report

The Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) has today (12 December) unveiled details of a new initiative aimed at reducing electrical waste and boosting the economy.

The ‘Sustainable Electricals Action Plan’ (SEAP) forms part of England’s National Waste Prevention Programme (released yesterday) and will seek to ‘catalyse sector action, share evidence and bring together the many different stakeholders around the electrical products life cycle’.

It will evolve out of WRAP’s Electrical Products Pathfinder Group, a cross-industry working that group provides retailers, brands and trade associations with ‘the latest evidence on delivering less resource-intensive business growth’.

Members of the pathfinder group currently include Panasonic, Siemens, Asda, the British Retail Consortium and Tesco, and are currently working on developing specifications for longer-life appliances and demonstrating trade-in and other business models (as part of by WRAP’s EU-funded ‘REBus’).

However, the action plan’s scope will be wider than that of the pathfinder project, taking action ‘beyond the UK’ and including the whole product lifecycle – from design and specification through repair and reuse to end of life and recycling.

Collectors, reuse businesses and organisations, recyclers, enforcement bodies, consumer interest groups and international initiatives will all be included in SEAP.

SEAP expected to launch ‘by the summer’

Speaking to Resource, a spokesperson for WRAP said: “As noted in the Waste Prevention Programme for England, one intention, through SEAP, is to seek sector commitment on design for optimum product life, which could be delivered through a range of actions such as longer minimum guarantee periods and ease of repair for the most common failures.

“Increased technical durability will also help businesses develop service models which keep products in circulation for longer, such as trade-in for re-sale, rental and leasing.

“We are therefore talking to stakeholders about how best to organise this – for maximum impact and to make efficient use of their time.”

The spokesperson added that WRAP envisages it will hold at least one stakeholder workshop in February or March to “help shape the plans”, and should be ready to launch the action plan “by the summer”.

WRAP added the “collective and individual goals of SEAP will be decided by participants” and that it anticipates “early work will seek agreement on what to measure and what to target”.

Anyone who would like to register their interest in SEAP is asked to email [email protected]

Switched on to Value

As well as announcing details of SEAP, WRAP has also launched new research, ‘Switched on to Value’ (drawing on three new reports), which outlines how business can deliver resource and economic savings.

According to WRAP’s research, around a quarter of all waste electrical and electronic products (WEEE) discarded by householders at recycling centres are suitable for reuse, and if these products were reused (and the lifetimes of shorter-life products were extended), the UK could save up to 170,000 tonnes of resources, delivering a carbon benefit of around 1.1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year.

The report highlights that the UK market value for trading pre-owned equipment could be worth up to £3 billion, and that as 55 per cent of people would buy secondhand technology products, there are ‘significant opportunities for businesses and consumers through trading-in used electronic equipment and designing longer life appliances’.

Adding that only seven per cent of electricals are currently reused (and a third end up in landfill) WRAP says that ‘if retailers adopt a trade-in model they could meet consumer demand and access new markets by reselling the unwanted items’.

SEAP will also encourage businesses to make ‘the partnerships needed to develop a more robust market for product trading, repair [and] reuse’.

Redesigning products

As well as improving the trade-in market, WRAP suggests that product design could also be addressed to reduce waste, as its ‘Switched on to Value’ report revealed that up to a third of household appliances such as washing machines, fridge freezers and vacuum cleaners are ‘not lasting as long as people would like’. 

Specifically, WRAP’s product design reviews revealed 15 out of 16 products ‘could be improved to deliver significant cost savings and reduced returns through simple changes in the design and production process’.

Offering better designed products could thus ‘address customer expectations, grow [business] market and strengthen brand value whilst reducing costs, particularly when product returns cost the UK economy £400 million each year’.

As such, those joining the Sustainable Electricals Action Plan will also be pushed to ‘have products designed for long life and multiple use’.

‘Critical that we act now’

Speaking today, Dr Liz Goodwin, CEO of WRAP, said: “In a world of diminishing resources it’s critical that we act now. The amount that we’re throwing away is incredible – a sheer waste of precious resources. This report reveals real opportunities where we can change that and reap both financial and environmental benefits.

“The report indicates clear advantages to changing the way electrical and electronic products are made and sold. Adopting these new ideas would give customers better value and would help the UK take a step towards a more circular economy – keeping the products in use for longer and offsetting the global impact of making new products.”

Focus on electricals

The findings follow on from WRAP’s ‘Evidence of consumer demand for retailer services on electrical products that offer alternatives to new product purchase’ report (launched in October), which found that between 80 and 90 per cent of people said that they would consider using a trade-in service for unwanted but still usable electricals such as televisions, laptops and tablet computers.

The focus on electricals comes after WRAP secured £1.3 million EU LIFE+ funding (the European Union's environment fund) to increase work capacity in different markets, specifically: electrical and electronic products, clothing, furniture, and construction products.

Read more about ‘Switched on to Value’.