UK saw 471m items of ‘FastTech’ e-waste in 2022

UK saw 471m items of ‘FastTech’ e-waste in 2022

Feature articles |
By Nick Flaherty

UK households threw away nearly 500m small ‘FastTech’ electricals in the last year says a new report ahead of International E-Waste Day.

‘FastTech’, like Fast Fashion, is now the UK’s fastest growing e-waste stream, with 471 million items binned in the past year according to Material Focus.

‘FastTech’ refers to everyday small electrical items, from headphones to cables, decorative lights to mini fans and even single-use vapes. These items often have a short lifespan and cost, on average, £4. This means they may be seen as ‘disposable’ even when they’re not designed to be.

This emerging issue is the tip of the iceberg of a bigger challenge of electrical waste in the UK, with the valuable materials contained inside these items – gold, aluminium, and lithium –  lost when thrown away. Startup Jiva Circuits for example has developed a printed circuit board technology that is fully dissolvable in hot water, allowing components in small ‘fasttech’ designs to be easily recovered for simpler re-cycling.

The report highlights over 100,000 tonnes of waste electricals thrown away every year and 880 million electrical items (of all kinds) lying unused in UK homes. 

Although, the total number of electrical items thrown away has decreased since 2017 (103 thousand tonnes of electricals are thrown away every year, down 34% partly due to lighter weight items) and more and more people are recycling (60% of people say they regularly recycle their electricals, up from 52% in 2021). However the household electricals are lying unused in UK homes is up 67% increase compared to the last research three years ago.

Today’s study was conducted by Material Focus as part of the Recycle Your Electricals campaign to mark International E-Waste Day (this Saturday 14th October). The annual tally of e-waste includes 260 million disposable vapes, 26 million cables, 29 million LED, solar and decorative lights, 9.8 million USB sticks and 4.8 million mini fans.

To highlight the vast amount of precious materials that are hidden inside electrical items that are being thrown away, the researchers worked with industrial X-ray scanner firm Lumafield on a series of 3D CT scan images and video clips. The images show the surprising amount of precious materials contained in small electricals, from copper to lithium to stainless steel.

Lumafield’s Neptune industrial CT scanner captured hundreds of X-ray images of each product from different angles, and its Voyager software reconstructed these images into 3D visual models that reveal both external and internal details.

Scott Butler, Executive Director, Material Focus, which runs the Recycle Your Electricals campaign, says, “FastTech is seriously rivalling Fast Fashion, and is causing similar headaches. People should think carefully about buying some of the more frivolous FastTech items in the first place. But as FastTech items are quite cheap and small, people may not realise that they contain valuable materials and will just pop them in the bin, meaning we lose everything inside them instead of recycling them into something new.

“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. The scale of the issue is huge, but there’s an easy solution – just as the trend for recycling and repurposing fashion has grown and grown, we want to encourage the nation to recycle FastTech, guilt and fuss-free,” he said.


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