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MPs relaunch Electronic Waste & the Circular Economy inquiry

13 March 2020

What is e-waste and how are electronics currently recycled?

Electronic waste(e-waste)  – made up of electrical equipment with a plug, electric cord or battery - is the fastest growing waste stream in the world. It has surged in recent years, encouraged by rising consumer demand, technological developments and decreasing costs for electronic devices. Around 50 million metric tonnes (Mt) of e-waste were generated globally in 2018 and this figure is projected to rise to as much as 120 million tonnes by 2050. Environmental campaigners argue that the problem is being fuelled by cheap poorly manufactured products and built-in obsolescence.

E-waste can contain up to 60 different metals and chemicals which can be hazardous, contaminating soil, polluting water sources and entering food supply chains. It also contains many valuable materials, which can be recovered and recycled if disposed of correctly. This value comes from high value metals in electrical components such as gold, silver, copper, platinum and palladium. Despite the value of discarded materials in e-waste, recycling rates are low and the majority of the world's e-waste currently ends up in landfill or is incinerated. Despite a ban on e-waste exports to developing countries, this practice continues with some countries in Africa and Asia becoming destinations for e-waste dumping.

Chair's comments

Chairman of the Environmental Audit Committee, Philip Dunne MP, said:

“From being woken by electronic alarm clocks and putting the kettle on, to working on laptops and messaging on our mobile phones, we are constantly using electric devices. The desire to upgrade our devices continuously, coupled with the poor design of some products, is creating a growing mountain of electronic waste. Many gadgets are wrongly discarded in household bins destined for the dump or incineration rather than recycling.

“If the UK is to maintain its position as a world-leader in protecting the environment, we have to manage our e-waste better and make the transition to a more efficient circular economy. This new inquiry will consider what consumers and industry can do to minimise e-waste and increase how much of it we resell or recycle.”

Terms of reference

The Committee has already collected evidence on this topic but welcomes further written evidence on some, or all, of the following points.

Submissions should be made using the Electronic Waste and the Circular Economy inquiry page.

Implementing a Circular Economy for Electronic Goods

  • What steps are being taken to move towards a circular economy for electronic goods? How can the UK Government support this transition?
  • What is the environmental and human health risk from e-waste? How significant is it and who is most at risk?
  • How can secondary markets for electrical goods be improved? What incentives are required to implement these markets?
  • Why does recovering materials from electronic waste pose a significant challenge? What support is required to facilitate the adoption of recovery technologies?

UK's Electronic Waste Sector

  • Are UK Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) collection targets achievable? What challenges do UK producer compliance schemes and WEEE reprocessors face in meeting the collection targets?
  • What causes fraud in the UK's e-waste system? How can this be addressed?
  • What action can the UK Government take to prevent to the illegal export of e-waste to the developing world?
  • What proposals does the UK Government need to consider as part of its consultation on WEEE?
  • Is UK public awareness of e-waste recycling satisfactory? If not, how can it be improved?

Further information

Image: David Wright via Geograph