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ANALYSIS – the next Government needs to tighten up on e-waste disposal

Staff Reporter
July 1, 2024

Drastic action needs to be taken to encourage businesses to repair devices rather than replacing them to help boost the UK economy writes Adam Whitehouse founder of TMT First, the Staffordshire provider of technology lifecycle services.

Whoever is in power needs to encourage people to get devices repaired – they need to make it easier by introducing sustainable incentives such as removing VAT from refurbished tech or adopting proven schemes like those seen in Europe to incentivise repairs.

It will be virtually impossible for companies to meet the current Government’s targets of becoming net zero by 2050 if steps aren’t taken to encourage business owners to recycle and repair, rather than just replace. With the mountain of electrical waste* predicted to grow to 74 million tonnes a year by 2030 whoever is in power after the General Election needs to:

  • Scrap or reduce VAT on technology repairs.

  • Introduce a UK repair voucher scheme, to promote sustainable consumption like those seen in other areas of Europe to incentivise people to get their broken electronic devices repaired, rather than, just discarding them and replacing with new.

  • Bring in targets so that when businesses aquire tech, at least 10 percent of purchases per year have to be refurbished or repaired devices.

E-waste is the fastest growing waste stream worldwide. According to the Global E-waste Statistics Partnership, 53.6 million metric tons of e-waste was generated in 2019, with only a portion being recycled properly.

Whitehouse: Whoever is in power needs to encourage people to get devices repaired

The Global E-waste Monitor 2024 states that a record 62 million metric tons of e-waste were generated globally in 2022, that would fill 1.55 million 40-tonne trucks, roughly enough trucks to form a bumper-to-bumper line encircling the equator, and only 22.3 per cent of this e-waste was formally collected and recycled.

This gap between e-waste generation and recycling is expected to widen

This gap between e-waste generation and recycling is expected to widen, with projections indicating that by 2030, e-waste could reach 82 million metric tons, while the documented recycling rate could drop to 20%.

Electronic items, like mobiles, laptops and tablets that could be fixed, too often get thrown away, instead contributing to pollution and increasing the global demand for components including rare earth elements, which when mined can damage local environments.

I want to see incentivising measures introduced to actively encourage consumers and businesses to repair tech or buy refurbished as an alternative to always replacing with new.

Austria for example introduced their support program ‘Repair Bonus,’ which provides vouchers that cover 50 per cent of the costs for repairing home electrical and electronic equipment up to a value of €200. The aim is to give broken electronic devices a ‘second chance,’ increasing the number of refurbished and repaired electrical and electronic equipment.

Back in 2022 the Waste and Electrical Equipment Forum estimated that 5.3 billion mobiles phones would be thrown away – that figure will have only increased. Today the world’s largest device manufacturers including Samsung and Apple provide operating systems and security updates for up to seven years – so there’s no need for these mobile devices to have been thrown away – they can be repaired and repurposed which is far more sustainable.

We are a business that specialises in extending the life of digital devices, but this is much bigger than the part we can play – the climate crisis is real, and we must collectively take action.

People are also more aware of e-waste and the carbon generated during the manufacture of smartphones, tablets or laptops. 

Buying a refurbished device, repairing it or sending it to be recycled when it finally is beyond repair is vital in today’s drive to respect the planet and adopt a more sustainable approach in business. It’s time to give e-waste the attention it needs when we’re looking at future polices and whoever wins at the General Election needs to make a stand.

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