A Fast-Tech Item is Bought Every 16 Seconds, But The Majority Goes To Landfill, Study Finds

The digital world has birthed abundant consumption, and the UK witnesses a concerning trend in discarding small electricals, known as “FastTech.” Scott Butler, Executive Director of Material Focus, compares FastTech to its clothing counterpart, Fast Fashion, emphasizing a pressing dilemma that revolves around disposable items like headphones, mini fans, and even single-use vapes.

“FastTech is seriously rivalling Fast Fashion, and is causing similar headaches,” he warned. The low cost, averaging £4 per item, often misleads consumers into perceiving them as ‘disposable’, presenting a looming issue that is not just isolated to these small items but reflects a broader challenge with electrical waste on a national scale.

A Look at the Stats

Startling findings from a study by Material Focus, to mark International E-Waste Day, show that within a single year, over half a billion FastTech items found a new home in UK residences – a staggering rate of one every 16 seconds. Alarmingly, 471 million of these items find their final resting place in landfill sites, leaving valuable materials like gold, aluminium, and lithium irretrievably lost. This range of wasted items spans 260 million disposable vapes to 26 million cables, to cite a few examples. Butler insists, “We want to get the message across that anything with a plug, battery, or cable can be recycled and there’s somewhere near you to do it.”

Consumer Insight into E-Waste

Consumers buy FastTech for various reasons, including replacing broken items (39% of UK adults) or for their novelty value (8%). For instance, an average UK adult buys nine FastTech items each year and discards eight, constituting 90% of their purchases.

Often, the low cost and size of these items mask their intrinsic value and recycling feasibility, leading consumers to casually dispose of them, uninformed of the lost recycling opportunity. Nadiya Catel-Arutyunova, a sustainability adviser at the British Retail Consortium, reminded that “All retailers selling electricals, whether it is online or in store, are required to help customers dispose of their old electrical products – regardless of where they were originally purchased.”


Recycling: An Accessible Solution

With the International E-Waste Day (IEWD) 2023, the spotlight is on electrical recycling. Initiatives are urging individuals, retailers, and local communities alike to join in the movement by responsibly recycling their electricals. For those wondering where to take their unwanted electrical items, the Recycling Locator tool, featuring over 16,000 recycling points, provides an easy answer.

Despite the intensity of the issue, the Material Focus study also gives a hopeful glimpse at the wider picture. Compared to statistics from 2017, the overall weight of electrical waste has seen a decline, thanks in part to lighter electrical items and a surging recycling rate, with 60% of people claiming they recycle their electricals. Nevertheless, it’s important to remember that this issue still looms large, with 880 million electrical items currently unused and waiting in UK homes.

Beyond a Local Issue

The situation transcends the UK. Globally, consumers are discarding 9 billion kg of various items, from cables and toys to novelty clothes, often without recognising them as e-waste. This ignorance towards e-waste identification and management forms a part of the collective action needed to tackle the global e-waste problem effectively.

Material Focus: Advocating for Conscious Consumption

Material Focus, with its dedication to encouraging recycling, also nurtures awareness regarding consumerism’s unseen aspects. By highlighting the heavy spending – upwards of £2.8bn in the last year on such items – the non-profit points to a considerable financial leak that might go unnoticed by individual consumers. The organisation provides a stark reminder of the less visible but equally pressing facet of consumptive behaviour and waste.

We’re becoming increasingly aware of sustainability, and these findings make us to consider our own electronic usage and disposal habits, both for the sake of our pockets and our planet. The tales of FastTech might just provide the impetus needed to alter our buying patterns and disposal habits, steering us towards a more conscious and sustainable future.