UK households’ 880 million unused electrical items could be recycled

  • Average UK home is holding onto 30 unused electrical items, says new report
  • Material Focus says buying of electrical goods “up by over a third” since 2019
  • 8 million tonnes of CO2 could be saved if all electricals were recycled
Assorted e-waste

Electrical waste has increased by 50% in four years, says Material Focus

UK households are holding onto £927 million worth of unused electrical items which, if recycled, could help the country’s economy and efforts to cut carbon emissions, according to a new report from environmental campaign group, Material Focus

According to Material Focus’ report, titled Electrical Waste: Challenges and Opportunities, UK households are now holding onto 880 million electrical items, equating to approximately 30 unused electrical items per household, up from 20 four years ago, a 50% increase. 

As well as the contribution to the economy, almost 8 million tonnes of CO2 could be saved if all electricals were recycled. This is the equivalent to 3.84 million cars being taken off the road per year. 

According to the report, the top 10 items that are wasted or go unused include remote controls, mobile phones and hairdryers. As the demand for electrical items soars among consumers, more are either being held onto in UK homes, thrown away, illegally exported or stolen, the report explains. 

Scott Butler, executive director, Material Focus, said of the findings: “We seem to be venturing into an era of hyper-tech-buying. The amount of electricals that we buy and use have soared in recent years by over a third since 2019, whether it’s the latest kitchen FadTech such as an air fryer, to fitness tech and to FastTech.”

FastTech are defined as cheap small electricals, such as mini-fans, charging cables, vapes, earphones and ear-buds. 

Butler continued: “When electricals break or become unwanted too many of them end up being thrown away or are held onto unused. This is a significantly missed opportunity. 

“With the value of the materials that are inside our electricals increasing by up to 180% over the past four years, it has never been more important to not lose that value.” 

The report is an update on research that was first published in 2021 and uses publicly available waste data flow to identify how the different UK regions contribute to the total UK waste electricals collected and recycled from local authorities. 

Glass has increased in price by 151% since 2019, while copper has increased by 24%, iron 181% and tin by 33%. 

To help people sell, repair or recycle their unused electricals, Material Focus is running Recycle Your Electricals.

Simply enter the electrical items that you no longer want or need along with your postcode, and the site will suggest the nearest places where you can recycle, donate, or even get them repaired.

Time to take a look in some of those long-forgotten drawers!

Written by:
Tamara Birch, senior writer, The Eco Experts
Tamara has written about environmental topics for more than four years. This includes advising small business owners on cost-effective ways, like solar panels and energy-efficient products to help them become more sustainable. 
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