UK Faces E-Waste Surge with 471 Million “Fast Tech” Items Discarded in 2022

A staggering 471 million “Fast Tech” items, including cables, LED lights, mini fans, and disposable vapes, were discarded in the UK in 2022, according to a study commissioned by the non-profit organization, Material Focus.

Photo Credit: pryzmat/Shutterstock.

BBC News reports that this category of electricals, akin to fast fashion in the tech world, is rapidly becoming the predominant type of e-waste. The study by Material Focus reveals that most households have about 30 neglected electrical items. These overlooked items hold valuable resources and are fully recyclable.

The survey, carried out by Opinium Research on behalf of Material Focus, delved into the habits of 2,000 participants. A breakdown of discarded items from the study highlighted:

  • 260 million disposable vapes
  • 30 million assorted LED and solar lights
  • 26 million cables
  • 10 million USB drives
  • 7 million wireless headphones
  • 5 million miniature fans

Despite an enticing average price tag of £4, these items are not inherently designed to be disposable. Rich in components like copper and lithium batteries, these materials can be reclaimed through recycling.

Scott Butler, Material Focus’s Executive Director, emphasized the importance of awareness, stating, “People may not realize that they contain valuable materials and will just pop them in the bin, meaning we lose everything inside them instead of recycling them into something new. We want to get the message across that anything with a plug, battery or cable can be recycled and there’s somewhere near you to do it.”

Globally, the pattern is consistent. A staggering 9 billion kg of cables, toys, vapes, novelty clothing, and related items are discarded annually. Many consumers fail to identify these as e-waste, as highlighted by the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Forum’s research.

Interestingly, Material Focus’s study indicated a decline in electrical waste since 2017. This can be attributed to the decreased weight of modern electrical items and an uptick in recycling. Currently, 60% of individuals claim to recycle their electronics.

However, items like mobile phones, cables, and remote controls are often left unused, averaging 30 per household. These can be repurposed or recycled for better utility.

Addressing this issue, Nadiya Catel-Arutyunova, a sustainability expert at the British Retail Consortium, stated, “All retailers selling electricals, whether it is online or in-store, are required to help customers dispose of their old electrical products – regardless of where they were originally purchased.”

Material Focus remains steadfast in its commitment to promoting recycling. The organization’s funding is derived from fees levied on electrical manufacturers failing to achieve government-set recycling benchmarks.