The way people buy, consume and discard their electronics is changing — and for the better. A new report by WRAP has revealed that an industry-wide adoption of circular principles could unlock new economic opportunities and drive the economy towards greater sustainability. The research outlined in Switched on to Value: Powering Business Change shows that while only 10 percent of UK households use household recycling schemes to discard their unwanted electrical items, 83 percent of households have demonstrated interest in retailer take-back and trade-in schemes, which can provide customers with a convenient way to properly dispose of products while ensuring data protection and safety.
According to WRAP, with electrical and electrical equipment consumption predicted to increase 19 percent by 2020 in the UK, these kinds of circular business models could create a number of new economic opportunities by providing recycling firms with new channels to recover unwanted electrical equipment and components and strike up partnerships with reuse and refurbishment organizations.
“As brands and retailers set up new business models it will mean new activities for the company, such as refurbishment, secure data wiping and recycling,” said Steve Creed, Director at WRAP. “They will need to set up supply partnerships with organizations that can help 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.”
Switched on to Value also examines the challenges for recyclers that are likely to arise from the estimated 80 million smart devices that are expected to make their way into waste streams by 2022. Smaller electronic goods, increasingly complex home appliances and wearable tech are likely to use less critical raw materials than other electronics, yet are more likely to present significant obstacles for component separation and adequate value recovery. Additionally, larger goods, such as refrigerators and vacuum cleaners, are becoming smarter and more complex and now include batteries, electronic displays, smart elements and more, making them harder to break down and placing increasing pressure on recyclers to meet regulatory requirements.
WRAP believes that through its Electrical and Electronic Sustainability Action Plan (esap), it can help the recycling sector prepare for the electronics industry’s transition towards a circular model. By bringing together key players from across the electricals supply chain, esap provides a platform for collaboration enabling the resources sector to work more closely with brands, retailers and manufacturers.
Esap can provide a vital forum for downstream collectors, recyclers and processors to identify and learn about changes in product mix and composition. A new reuse and recycling working group is currently being established to look at the emerging challenges and discuss and identify ways forward.
Since its inception, esap has built the evidence base for change, from which it predicts the electrical and electrical equipment industry could achieve £4.4 billion in financial benefit, prevent one million tons of waste and save 14 million tons in CO2 emissions by using resources more sustainably. The action plan is now evolving into esap 2025, where targets — informed by WRAP’s new report — will be developed with industry to further drive action.
The report also looks at extending product life through reuse, product returns and implementing circular business models from theory to practice, as well as the emergence of smarter homes and global trends.