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Consumer mindset is challenge for WEEE sector

Fewer than one in 10 consumers use household recycling schemes for unwanted waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE), with one-third saying that concerns over personal data discourage recycling of electrical products, according to WRAP.

The reservations are reflected in the charity’s report, Switched on to Value: Powering Business Change, which also concludes more positively that the appetite for circular business models such as take-back schemes is growing. In terms of reuse, half of those surveyed said they would be prepared to buy quality used products from major retailers. 

Two million tonnes of electrical and electronic equipment is placed on the UK market each year and this is predicted to increase 19% by 2020: “With UK households already purchasing four products for every three discarded, the accumulation of the total number of electrical products present in the UK economy is growing,” the report says.

WRAP’s research found that consumers do not know how to discard unwanted electrical items, with fewer than 10% of UK households using household recycling schemes. Concern about personal data discourages more than a third of households from handing over an electrical product.

But 83% of respondents were interested in giving electricals back to retailers through take-back and trade-in schemes, such as the Argos trade-in scheme for mobile phones, which can provide customers with the reassurance that data will be safely wiped from their devices.

Steve Creed, WRAP director, said: “As brands and retailers set up new business models, it will mean new activities for companies, such as refurbishment, secure data wiping and recycling.

“They will need to set up supply partnerships with organisations that can help to deliver these processes and reduce the investment risk. We envisage these relationships to be long and valuable for both – so developing the right partnership is essential.”

The report also looks at the consequence of the rising number of smaller electricals goods and increasingly complex home appliances.

Wearable items, digital assistants and smart home products may use fewer critical raw materials than other electricals but they are likely to present challenges for effective separation of components. Larger goods, such as refrigerators and vacuum cleaners, are becoming smarter and more complex.

WRAP’s electrical and electronic sustainability action plan (Esap), established in 2012, provides a platform for collaboration between the resources sector and brands, retailers and manufacturers. A reuse and recycling working group is being set up to look at the emerging challenges.

It is calculated that, by using resources more sustainably, the electrical and electronic equipment industry could achieve £4.4bn in financial benefit, prevent one million tonnes of waste and save 14 million tonnes in CO2 emissions.

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