Think circular on International E-Waste Day

13th October 2023
Paige West

For International E-Waste Day (14th October) – part of the possibly more familiar Recycling Week – Gavin Miller, CEO, Asurion Europe is offering tips on dealing with unused tech at home or in the workplace.

According to research included in our report, ‘Hitting refresh: tackling the UK’s growing e-waste challenge’, the average Brit is hoarding around 20 unused electronic items in their home, including enough cable to circle the earth five times.

If that’s the tech left lying unrecycled around our homes, what are the ramifications for business, particularly given the rise in homeworking? The potential for losing track of which equipment has been issued to employees, whether it’s still functioning correctly and whether it is due a refresh or needs to be disposed of, seems far greater in a hybrid working world.

Shedding light on invisible electronic waste

The theme for this year’s International E-Waste Day aims to shed light on just this issue, with the slogan ‘You can recycle anything with a plug, battery or cable!’ According to the UN, 8kg of e-waste per person will be produced worldwide in 2023 – with 61.3 million tonnes of electronic waste being discarded. Only 17.4% of this waste will be recorded as being properly collected, treated and recycled globally.

And the UK is reputedly one of the worst offenders, not only for producing e-waste, but also for transferring those unwanted items to other countries, with some estimates reporting that 40% of the electronic waste collected is sent overseas.

According to the WEEE Forum, the organisers of International E Waste Day, globally “50.6 million tonnes [of e-waste] will be either placed in landfill, burned or illegally traded and treated in a sub-standard way or simply hoarded in…households.” In fact, even in countries across Europe that are ahead of the game in e-waste recycling, only just over half is officially reported as collected and recycled.

Business obligations

From laptops, to smartphones, printers, and office electronics, ideally none of these items should ever end up in landfill, particularly as we become more and more aware of the scarcity of the precious metals and minerals used to produce them. Put simply, anyone in either public and private sector businesses who generates, stores, works with or disposes of waste is bound by a duty of care, despite the fact that a major part of the Waste Electronic and Electrical Equipment (WEEE) Regulations focuses on the ‘polluter pays’ principle.

This regulation ensures that those producers who place more than five tonnes of electronic and electrical equipment onto the market each year must finance the costs of collection, treatment, recovery, and recycling of those materials when they become waste. The regulations also state that businesses which fail to comply with WEEE regulations on e-waste can be prosecuted and fined up to £5,000 at a magistrates’ court or receive an unlimited fine from a crown court.

But what about businesses that are consuming rather than producing technology? Where does the responsibility lie with them in making sure that recycling is done properly?

Stepping up to do more

An audit is a useful step in the process. Just as portable appliance testing is recommended by the Health and Safety Executive on an annual basis, this might be a useful moment to create an audit of the tech within your organisation, including that which is provided for use by homeworkers. Once you have a handle on the number of electronic items your organisation uses it will be far easier to set up processes for return and renewal.

Recycling of electronic items needs to be done properly, but it can be complicated, as each local council location will take different items. It’s possible to find out where best to take e-waste by using the Recycle Your Electricals site to perform a postcode search. The consumer guide Which also gives some great advice on how to cleanse data and personal information from gadgets before recycling.

Holding a workplace ‘electronics amnesty’ might also encourage staff to raid their own stashes of e-waste, which could then be reused or shared with charities like Oxfam or Computer Aid or passed on to organisations who repair faulty gadgets, giving them a new lease of life.

Another tip to prolong the life of your business tech might be taking the time to invest in an insurance product that comprehensively covers device maintenance, installation, optimisation, repair, and trade-in options – saving money, while reducing environmental footprint at the same time. Simply taking the time to learn how to properly maintain tech, for example gaining advice on optimising storage and working through other glitches, instead of just getting rid of the item, could be extremely beneficial.

In fact, our recent report shows that by using this type of tech insurance to extend the life of a smartphone, tablet, or laptop device by 12 months, and remembering to trade in that device, the carbon footprint of manufacturing replacement devices is reduced by an average of 99kg of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) per person – or over 4.5 million tonnes of CO2e across the UK. That’s equivalent to 0.9% of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

Working with a provider to offer your employees this insurance as a discounted personal incentive or perk might also be a way forward.

Don’t waste any time

Pressure from businesses on government on the reduction of e-waste can also only be beneficial.

Pushing for action on some of the pledges made in the response to the Electronic Waste and the Circular Economy Report from 2021 might mean calling for information to be included on electronic items with regards to planned obsolescence, extending right to repair regulations to cover smartphones and laptops, or labelling products with a ‘repairability score’ that enables businesses and individuals to make better choices about the products they buy in the first instance.

The rare and valuable resources used in our electronics are already the subject of geopolitical struggles, at the heart of supply and demand issues, and a major cause of environmental damage. Taking steps to reduce personal and business e-waste is essential.

Nearly 200 organisations from 72 countries across six continents marked International E-Waste Day last year. Why not join them this year with your own campaign or activity?

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