£1 Billion Worth of Precious Materials Can Be Saved Through Electrical Recycling in the UK

Listen to this story:
  • Material Focus launches its Electrical Waste: Challenges and Opportunities research to highlight the value hidden inside our electricals held on to unused in UK homes and in the waste stream
  • UK households are holding unto 880 million unused electrical items and throwing away 103,000 tonnes of electricals, costing the economy in £488 million lost valuable raw materials
  • 343,000 tonnes of electricals are being lost through being stolen or illegally exported – £439 million in lost valuable raw materials
  • 7.98 million tonnes CO2 of CO2 could also be saved equivalent to 3.84 million cars being taken off the road per annum if those electricals that are thrown away, held onto, stolen or illegally exported were recycled

New research from Material Focus has identified that as the demand for electrical items soars amongst consumers, more of these items are either being held onto in UK homes, thrown away, illegally exported or stolen. The research, “Electrical Waste: Challenges and Opportunities” found that the materials contained inside these “lost electricals” are worth £927 million which could, if recycled, make a significant contribution to the UK economy.  

Using updated United Nations (Unitar) research the report identifies a steep rise in illegal waste exports (an increasing global issue), which is now at 187,000 tonnes, and the rise in theft (linked to rising metal prices over the last three years) which is now at 156,000 tonnes. These together would be worth £439 million to the UK economy if they were recycled in the UK. 

The report, which is an update on research that was first published in 2021, 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. 

  • South East – 13,700 tonnes
  • London – 12,400 tonnes
  • North West – 11,400 tonnes
  • Wales  – 10,900 tonnes
  • East of England – 9,500 tonnes
  • Scotland – 9,100 tonnes
  • South West – 8,800 tonnes
  • West Midlands – 8,800 tonnes
  • Yorkshire & The Humber – 8,400 tonnes
  • North East – 4,200 tonnes
  • East Midlands – 7,400 tonnes
  • Northern Ireland – 2,800 tonnes

Scott Butler, Executive Director, Material Focus said:  “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 cheap small electricals such as mini-fans, charging cables, vapes, earphones and ear-buds.

When electricals break or become unwanted too many of them end up being thrown away or are held onto unused. This is a significant missed opportunity. With the value of the materials that are inside our electricals increasing by up to 180% over the last 4 years it has never been more important to not lose that value.

HypnoCat and our Recycle Your Electricals campaign are getting the nation aware of the importance of this issue, and together we can make some big positive change through individual small actions. We can make it easier for more people to reuse and recycle their old and unwanted electricals by offering more and easy to access household and retailer collections. To find your nearest recycling point, search up Recycle Your Electricals and pop in your postcode. The UK also needs to support a regulatory and enforcement system that is equipped to clamp down on illegal exports and theft.” 

Example material price increases since 2019

  • Glass (Borosilicate, silicone dioxide and inorganic) 151% 
  • Copper – 24%
  • Iron – 181%
  • Tin – 33%

Summary of key stats:

  • 2.2 million tonnes of electricals bought / put on the market 
  • 498,000 tonnes of electricals sent to approved electrical recyclers 
  • 880 million items unwanted and unused in UK homes – 30 per household (up from 20 four years ago)
  • 103,000 tonnes of electricals thrown away
  • 187,000 tonnes of illegal exports
  • 156,000 tonnes of stolen items

This is the second time that Material Focus has analysed where electricals move to once they are bought – whether they are held onto in UK homes, recycled, thrown away, stolen or illegally exported. Between 2017 and 2021 there has been a reduction in the weight of electricals being thrown away by UK households, some of which is due to products becoming much lighter and smaller. However there has been an increase in electricals being either held onto in UK homes or illegally exported and products being sold illegally (new products are entering the market from producers that aren’t complying with UK regulations). To move towards a circular economy, and to ensure that the UK can better manage its access to critical raw materials, recycling the precious materials contained inside waste electricals should be significantly increased. Recycling electricals needs to be made easier by offering more household and retailer collections. The UK also needs to support a regulatory and enforcement system that is equipped to clamp down on illegal exports and theft.

Related Article: Nestlé Steps Up Packaging Sustainability Efforts with 83.5% of Global Plastic Packaging Designed for Recycling

For more information on how to recycle your electricals, and to find your nearest recycling point, search recycle your electricals and pop in your postcode.