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Kerbside collections for e-waste could be introduced UK-wide

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The government is considering rolling out kerbside collections for electronic waste (e-waste) nationwide or forcing online retailers to collect it from homes as a way to balance their obligations with those of physical stores.

In December 2020, a study found that Britons produce the second-largest amount of e-waste per person in Europe, yet the vast majority of it ends up in landfill despite the abundance of rare earth metals and other valuable materials such as gold that can be gleaned from them.

Following pressure from the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), formed from a group of MPs, the government said it was considering stronger measures to boost e-waste recycling, including kerbside collections.

Under current rules, physical retailers of electronics are obliged to accept and recycle e-waste from their customers, regardless of whether it was purchased from them or not. Yet online retailers such as eBay and Amazon are exempt from these rules, despite being major sellers of electronics for millions of consumers.

New proposals that could also be introduced within the Environment Bill include measures to improve consumer awareness of the repairability and recyclability of electronics, as well as mandating that companies label products with what components are recycled and how repairable the item is.

However, the EAC expressed disappointment at the government’s decision to reject its recommendation to reduce VAT on repair services. The government argued that any resultant loss in tax revenue would have to be balanced elsewhere.

Philip Dunne MP, EAC committee chairman, said he was “pleased” to see recognition from ministers that efforts were needed to make e-recycling easier.

“Levelling the playing field for online giants and physical retailers in the take-back of e-waste is important if we are to cut down on the amount of e-waste disposed of incorrectly.

“We need to make urgent improvements to the reuse and recycling of such products and I am pleased that the government has recognised the role online retailers and marketplaces should play in taking increased responsibility for the e-waste streams they help generate.

“It is also reassuring that the Environment Bill could pave the way for better labelling on the recyclability of products and informing consumers what components have been recycled.

“As the Bill’s passage through Parliament has been delayed, it may be some time until we see products on shelves giving this detail. It is important that the government keeps up the pace towards this goal.”

The government also rejected a recommendation for targets on the recovery of critical raw materials and retaining value from old electronics.

In January 2020, researchers unveiled a new recycling process for printed circuit boards which should reduce their impact on the environment. 

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