Resources

Half a Billion Cheap Electrical Items Go To UK Landfills in a Year, Research Finds

The not-for-profit organisation Material Focus, which conducted the research, said the scale of the issue was huge and they wanted to encourage more recycling. More than half a billion cheaply priced electronic goods were bought in the UK in the past year alone — 16 per second. Material Focus findings showed that of these items, 471m were thrown away. This included 260m disposable vapes, 26m cables, 29m LED, solar and decorative lights, 9.8m USB sticks, and 4.8m miniature fans.

Scott Butler, executive director at Material Focus, described it as “fast tech.” He said: “People should think carefully about buying some of the more frivolous … items in the first place.” He said the items people bought were often “cheap and small,” and that consumers may not realise they contain valuable materials that could be salvaged if recycled. Small electricals can contain precious materials including copper, lithium and stainless steel. These components can be recycled and used in wind turbines, medical devices and electric vehicles. Material Focus said that while people were used to the idea of recycling larger electrical items such as fridges, lots of smaller devices were left unused in houses.

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People Send 20 Billion Pounds of “Invisible” E-Waste To Landfills Each Year

One e-toy for every person on Earth — that’s the staggering amount of electric trains, drones, talking dolls, R/C cars, and other children’s gadgets tossed into landfills every year. Some of what most consumers consider to be e-waste — like electronics such as computers, smartphones, TVs, and speaker systems — are usual suspects. Others, like power tools, vapes, LED accessories, USB cables, anything involving rechargeable lithium batteries and countless other similar, “nontraditional” e-waste materials, are less obviously in need of special disposal. In all, people across the world throw out roughly 9 billion kilograms (19.8 billion pounds) of e-waste commonly not recognized as such by consumers.

This “invisible e-waste” is the focal point of the sixth annual International E-Waste Day on October 14, organized by Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Forum. In anticipation of the event, the organization recently commissioned the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) to delve into just how much unconventional e-waste is discarded every year — and global population numbers are just some of the ways to visualize the issue.

According to UNITAR’s findings, for example, the total weight of all e-cig vapes thrown away every year roughly equals 6 Eiffel Towers. Meanwhile, the total weight of all invisible e-waste tallies up to “almost half a million 40 [metric ton] trucks,” enough to create a bumper-to-bumper traffic jam stretching approximately 3,504 miles — the distance between Rome and Nairobi. From a purely economic standpoint, nearly $10 billion in essential raw materials is literally thrown into the garbage every year.

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The Price of Recycling Old Laptops: Toxic Fumes in Thailand’s Lungs

The e-waste industry is booming in Southeast Asia, frightening residents worried for their health. Despite a ban on imports, Thailand is a center of the business.

Crouched on the ground in a dimly lit factory, the women picked through the discarded innards of the modern world: batteries, circuit boards and bundles of wires. They broke down the scrap — known as e-waste — with hammers and raw hands. Men, some with faces wrapped in rags to repel the fumes, shoveled the refuse into a clanking machine that salvages usable metal. As they toiled, smoke spewed over nearby villages and farms. Residents have no idea what is in the smoke: plastic, metal, who knows? All they know is that it stinks and they feel sick.

The factory, New Sky Metal, is part of a thriving e-waste industry across Southeast Asia, born of China’s decision to stop accepting the world’s electronic refuse, which was poisoning its land and people. Thailand in particular has become a center of the industry even as activists push back and its government wrestles to balance competing interests of public safety with the profits to be made from the lucrative trade. Last year, Thailand banned the import of foreign e-waste. Yet new factories are opening across the country, and tons of e-waste are being processed, environmental monitors and industry experts say. “E-waste has to go somewhere,” said Jim Puckett, the executive director of the Basel Action Network, which campaigns against trash dumping in poor countries, “and the Chinese are simply moving their entire operations to Southeast Asia.”

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