A new survey by the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) has revealed that the majority of consumers want clearer guidelines on the recycling of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE). Materials Recycling World reports that there is inadequate and confusing information about how to dispose of obsolete or broken electrical gadgets.
Despite concerns over the environmental consequences of keeping or incorrectly disposing of WEEE, the survey found that just over half of consumers did not know how to recycle them, or were sceptical that local services would deal with WEEE satisfactorily.
Furthermore, 71% of respondents said that it was too expensive to repair faulty devices, and 68% said it was too difficult to repair them. The problem is a genuine one, as many tech companies manufacture their products with a built-in obsolescence date, as it is more profitable to generate new sales than make repairs.
Devices such as mobile phones are a particular problem, because they contain toxic elements such as arsenic, but also precious and non-renewable elements such as gold, tungsten, and indium. Worryingly, a 2019 survey found that over half of UK consumers kept their WEEE devices, with no plans to reuse or recycle it.
Currently, less than 1% of all precious and rare elements in mobile phones are recycled in the UK. Things are slowly starting to change, but the situation is critical, and the RSC has called on the government to take more urgent action.
Professor Tom Welton, president of the RSC, said: “It is essential that governments and businesses do more to develop a circular economy to tackle the WEEE crisis. Governments need to overhaul recycling infrastructure and businesses to invest in more sustainable manufacturing.”
He added: “In the nearer term, we urge everyone to be more conscious about how they use and reuse technology.”
The RSC survey follows on from their 2019 Precious Metals Campaign, which received widespread media coverage, and led to the organisation giving evidence at the government’s Environmental Audit Committee report, which discussed ways to tackle the growing mountain of WEEE in the UK.
Scott Butler, Material Focus executive director, said: “The RSC’s latest campaign has put a spotlight on the world’s fastest growing waste stream. In the UK alone, our research has found that we are throwing away 155,000 tonnes of electricals and hoarding 527 million items in our homes.”
He added: “Recycling and reusing electricals needs to become far easier to ensure that we don’t throw away some of the most precious materials on our planet – anything with a plug, battery or cable can be reused or recycled. Urgent action by all stakeholders needs to be taken to address this issue.”
The RSC encourages consumers to always ask before they dispose of an unwanted electronic device, can it be repaired, sold, donated, updated, or recycled? The majority of consumers are very concerned about the waste of the earth’s precious resources, but find that information on recycling is contradictory or too vague.
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