The head of a major recycling group has called for urgent new rules to reduce the amount of electrical items thrown away by families over the festive season. The British Metals Recycling Association (BMRA) has called for an overhaul on the UK’s approach to disposing of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE).
Improper disposal of WEEE not only wastes the earth’s natural resources, but is also increasingly linked to household fires and fires inside bin lorries. It is estimated that UK households will throw away over two million electrical items over the Christmas period, as products that are often only a couple of years old are replaced with newer models.
James Kelly, the CEO of the BMRA, said: “Councils need to introduce kerbside collections for discarded WEEE items. That is because we are seeing increased fires happening in bin lorries and at household waste recycling centres as well as metal recycling sites like those of our members where these items can end up in the incorrect waste stream. People’s lives are at risk.”
Mr. Kelly added: “Almost two fires a day across the country can now be linked to these batteries, according to new research. In the space of 10 weeks, thanks to Black Friday deals, Christmas gifts, Boxing Day sales and January sales, we are likely to see millions of electrical items discarded.”
London Mayor Sadiq Khan has raised the issue of lithium-ion batteries that are commonly used in e-bikes and e-scooters, and also some types of e-cigarette. There are an increasing number of fire brigade call outs due to this type of battery overheating when charging. The London Fire Brigade has responded to 130 such fires during 2022.
Consumer spend on electric goods rose sharply during the pandemic, and this is only set to add to the ever-increasing mountain of WEEE. Meanwhile, collection and recycling targets for WEEE have consistently not been met.
Mr. Kelly added: “If there is not an easy option, such as kerbside collection, it is likely that much of this will be disposed of incorrectly. This massively increases the risk of fires across the waste sector. That is why we need to see kerbside collections introduced right away.”
“Aside from the safety issues regarding fires, hoarding e-waste also prevents a great many raw materials being made available again from recycling. These include metals such as copper, cobalt, and tungsten.”
A lot of the UK’s WEEE is currently shipped abroad, but efforts are being made to create more domestic WEEE recycling facilities. As well as the safety risks of poor disposal of WEEE, it also wastes precious reserves of non-sustainable resources. Valuable metals such as gold, palladium, silver, and copper are all used to make electrical products.
One option may be to oblige WEEE manufacturers who do not offer a collection service for their used goods to contribute to the local authority recycling costs, particularly for larger items such as washing machines, dishwashers, and ovens.
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