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Holiday hoarding and dumping e-scrap put UK lives at risk

British recyclers insist new rules are ‘urgently required’ to prevent households throwing unwanted electrical equipment out with the general waste following the holiday period.

The call from the British Metal Recycling Association (BMRA) comes as experts say e-scrap can now be linked to three times more fires inside bins, trucks and recycling centres than initially thought. There have been 700 fires caused by carelessly discarded electronics over the last 12 months in the UK. Many are small devices that contain batteries such as old mobile phones, computer equipment, and even kitchen appliances.

Around this time of year, local authorities expect to gather around two million post-consumer products across the UK via kerbside collection. They could be problematic, especially when damaged, entering the general waste stream.

‘Councils need to introduce kerbside collections for discarded WEEE items,’ says James Kelly, BMRA ceo. ‘Almost two fires a day across the country can now be linked to lithium-ion batteries, according to new research.

‘Thanks to Black Friday deals, Christmas gifts, Boxing Day sales and January sales, we are likely to see millions of electrical items discarded.’

The absence of a dedicated e-scrap collection solution ‘massively’ increases the risk of incidents across the entire waste sector, Kelly argues. ‘People’s lives are at stake.’

Untapped urban mine

A recent survey by Material Focus reports that nearly 90% of 60 local authorities surveyed see battery fires as ‘an increasing problem’. It found that one-third of households have at least one electrical device that does not work that could be recycled. That includes almost 21 million desktop computers, 18.5 million games consoles; 11.7 million laptops and 9.17 million tablets and printers which are working but no longer used by the household.

These are worth an estimated £850 million in precious metals per year. ‘Aside from the safety issues, hoarding e-waste also prevents a great many raw materials being made available again from recycling,’ Kelly adds. ‘These include metals such as copper, cobalt, and tungsten.’

BMRA cites official figures putting UK waste generation of e-scrap at almost 24kg per person each year, second only to Norway and more than three times the world average of 7.3 kilograms per capita. The nation’s e-scrap stream contains enough gold for more than 850 000 new rings.

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