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Tackling the growth in hoarded electronics

Headphones and remote controls are among the most hoarded waste electrical and electronic items in Europe, new data suggests. Mobile phones are also in the top five. 

Of a total of 16 billion mobile phones worldwide, 5.3 billion will become waste this year. Stacked on top of each other, they would cover 50 000 km. This year alone, the world will produce 24.5 million tonnes of small e-waste – four times the weight of the Great Pyramid of Giza.

‘Despite containing rare precious metals and other recyclable components, a large volume of small appliances are hoarded in drawers, wardrobes, cupboards and garages or, worse still, are discarded in rubbish bins bound for landfill or incineration,’ says Leo Donovan, ceo of WEEE Ireland.

He points out that only six in ten Irish consumers who purchased an electrical item in 2021 said they recycled their old one. Even so, consumers in Ireland still recycled a record 18.7 million waste electrical items last year – including 127 000 fridges, 205 000 TVs and monitors and over 2.3 million lightbulbs in a takeback amounting to 38 464 tonnes.

Donovan hopes to boost recycling potential by addressing new data for Global E-waste Day. He cites research stating the number one reason for hoarding end-of-life phones and other e-waste products is ‘I might use it again’. Other motives include ‘I plan on selling it or giving it away some day’ (15%) and ‘It has sentimental value’ (13%).

Most hoarded items

New data by the WEEE Forum reveals that the top five hoarded electrical and electronic products in Europe are:

  • small consumer electronics and accessories such as headphones, remote controls
  • household equipment such as clocks, irons
  • small IT equipment including external hard drives, routers, keyboards, mice
  • mobile and smartphones
  • equipment for food preparation – toasters, food processing, grills

Of almost 9 000 European households surveyed in six countries, the average household contains 74 e-products.  Thirteen of these, nine in working order, are being hoarded.

‘We focussed this year on small e-waste items because it is very easy for them to accumulate unused and unnoticed in households, or to be tossed into the ordinary garbage bin,’ says Pascal Leroy, director general of the WEEE Forum. ‘People tend not to realise that all these seemingly insignificant items have a lot of value, and together at a global level represent massive volumes.’

He adds that producer responsibility organisations affiliated with the WEEE Forum are constantly working to make the proper disposal of small e-waste simple and convenient for consumers. Examples range from providing collection boxes in supermarkets, picking up small (even broken) appliances upon delivery of new ones and offering PO Boxes to return small e-waste.

The WEEE Forum aims to become the world’s foremost electronics recycling competence centre, inspired by the circular economy. Its activities span Europe, the Americas, Africa, Oceania and Asia. Member organisations reported collection and proper de-pollution, repair and recycling in excess of three million tonnes of WEEE in 2021.

Since the organisation’s launch in 2005, its members have processed more than 30 million tonnes of e-scrap. They jointly operate over 114 000 end-of-life electronics collection

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