Retailers and tech giants should do more to tackle UK’s e-waste problem – report

The UK needs to do more to tackle its growing e-waste problem, which sees the majority of end-of-life electronics being sent to landfill or incineration, the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has said.

The manufacturing of new electronics from raw materials can cause huge human and environmental damage and releases significant carbon emissions, while electronic waste, when not properly treated, releases toxic chemicals that damage human and animal health.

The EAC said that many electronics vendors, including retail giants like Amazon, are shirking their responsibilities to help the circular economy by reusing and recycling products sold through their stores.

It called on the government to make online marketplaces collect products and pay for their recycling to create a level playing field with physical retailers and producers that are not selling on their platforms.

It also called on tech companies to improve their designs to make reuse easier to achieve, with most consumers unable to carry out repairs themselves and with little access to manuals on how issues can be fixed.

Apple in particular were singled out for gluing and soldering together internal components to make any repair nearly impossible, with prohibitive repair charges often making it more economical to just replace the item completely.

The committee recommends that the government should enshrine the right to repair in law, and reduce VAT on repair services, as is the case in many EU countries. This could be an important incentive to boost a repair culture across the UK, it added.

EAC chairman, Rt Hon Philip Dunne MP, said: “For too long companies like Amazon and Apple have been dodging their environmental responsibilities for the products they sell.

“Too many devices sold and made by these companies have a limited, and sometimes decreasing, lifespan and end up in bins, eventually going to landfill or incineration.

“There is no chance of precious metals being retrieved, which could quickly become a huge problem as the rare and disappearing materials are crucial for renewable energy such as wind turbines, solar panels and electric car batteries.

“Repairing and recycling must become commonplace for electronics. In our report today, we have set out how the government can achieve a circular economy for electronics – from VAT changes making repair more attractive, to the onus being placed on online marketplaces when delivering new products to collect old items they are replacing.

"We cannot as a society continue to ignore the e-waste problem like so many of us have done for years – I plead guilty to keeping old mobile phones and chargers stuck at the back of the desk drawer gathering dust. We must take action if we are to protect the environment for years to come. I am going to change my behaviour. This report calls on us all to change too.”

An Amazon spokesperson said: “Amazon is committed to minimising waste and helping our customers to reuse, repair, and recycle their products. We have supported the recycling of more than 10,000 tonnes of electronic waste in the UK over the last decade.

"We remain steadfast in meeting The Climate Pledge—our commitment to reach net zero carbon by 2040, and we will continue to work constructively with DEFRA and others on the role of online marketplaces and the circular economy, and the challenges of electronic waste.”

Recent figures show that the quantity of e-waste is growing at an alarming rate – up 21 per cent in the last five years – yet only 17.4 per cent of 2019’s e-waste was collected and recycled.

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