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Government failing to grasp fully the “e-waste tsunami”: EAC questions why so many of its recommendations accepted by Ministers are not being consulted on

12 March 2024

Four years on from the Government accepting or partly accepting recommendations from the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) to tackle the “e-waste tsunami”, it appears little progress has been made.

In its report published in November 2020, EAC shone a spotlight on the environmental impact of electronic items. Their manufacture from raw materials can cause huge human and environmental damage and releases significant carbon emissions, whilst electronic waste, when not properly treated, can release toxic chemicals that damage human and animal health.

EAC therefore called for more to be done on embedding a circular economy to use, re-use and recycle electronic products.

In the Government’s current consultation ‘Electrical waste: reforming the producer responsibility system’, EAC is encouraged to see that online marketplaces are to be subject to producer responsibility requirements, thereby levelling the playing field with high street retailers. EAC also welcomes proposals for mandatory collection of e-waste.

However, the relatively narrow focus of the current consultation fails to address many of EAC’s 2020 recommendations. Implementation of proposals such as ensuring products sold on online marketplaces are compliant with the law, addressing planned obsolescence and making electrical items safe to repair for the consumer are all missing from the Government’s plans.

Committee members are generally concerned that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ general implementation of producer responsibility policies is beset by delays.

EAC has therefore written to the Environment Secretary setting out EAC’s recommendations and its view on whether the current Government consultation seeks to address them.

Chair comment

Environmental Audit Committee Chairman, Rt Hon Philip Dunne MP, said:

“When the Committee reported on e-waste in 2020, each UK household had 20 unused electronic items hoarded at home, and there were enough unused cables in UK households to go around the world five times. Despite these extraordinary statistics, it appears the Government is yet to grasp fully the scale of the e-waste tsunami.

“It is not just the amount of waste created in the sector through planned obsolescence or insufficient recycling schemes, but the significant environmental impact of creating the products in the first place. For example, when disposed of incorrectly, toxic chemicals can leak into the surrounding environment. The precious metals needed for our mobile phones, tablets or headphones are needed for Net Zero Britain and renewable energy infrastructure.

“As a Select Committee, we are encouraged when the Government looks carefully at the evidence we have collected and accepts our recommendations. However, four years on, we are yet to see many of these initiatives make it into policy or be reflected in its current consultation on e-waste. I look forward to receiving the Environment Secretary’s response to see how EAC’s recommendations can help mould this critically important piece of Government policy.”

Further information

Image: UK Parliament/Tyler Allicock