Greater focus must be placed on reusing unwanted electrical goods rather than on recycling within the UK, which lags behind the rest of Europe partly as a result of the ongoing stigma attached to buying second-hand goods.
Cris Stephenson, CEO of Environcom – the UK’s leading independent recycler of e-waste and provider of reuse, says only 12-14% of the goods brought into his company’s two centres (in Grantham and Stowbridge) are reused even though “reusing goods is so much better than either
buying new or recycling old items”. Contributing to the problem is the fact manufacturers are only tasked with recycling old goods and
are not incentivised in any way to increase the levels of reuse from unwanted items. It is a similar story with council-run recycling centres where no goods can be reused because of the damage caused by the processing at these facilities that involves all goods being simply thrown carelessly into skips.
Therefore, even though 40% of the incoming goods at Environcom are from council sites none of it is suitable for reuse. The other 60% comes from retailers handling items that their customers have returned following the purchase of a replacement. It is from this 60% that the 12-14% of reused
goods are derived. From these items as many as 56% are ultimately resold into other EU countries – despite the extra costs and the complexity of the logistics involved – because the buying of second-hand fridges, freezers and washing machines is not looked down on in places like the Netherlands and Spain.
“These countries have large resale stores [for white good and electrical] where there is no stigma. There is a preference in the UK for buying new even if the quality is rubbish. If it is a high quality brand like Bosch then it will last and is therefore good for reuse. In EU countries the reuse of
goods is very popular and is not seen as an embarrassment,” says Stephenson. What might help change things and boost reuse are the moves by the charities to take on larger shops, which are so much more suited to showcasing and selling white goods. “The charities are moving into old stores from the likes of Debenhams as more large units are becoming available on the high street. It is early days but it is increasing and we are seeing more volumes going through charity shops,” he explains.
10,000 fridges per week processed at Grantham.
54% of all the technology items (including TVs, phones and PCs) reused are laptops because they have their own case that protects them from damage.
Seven tonnes of copper and 63 tonnes of steel are recycled each week from fridge compressors alone.
The big worry is the growth in lithium-Ion batteries embedded in electrical goods that are difficult to sort and process because they are flammable.
The other dynamic that could come into play is the shopping habits of younger consumers who are more sensitive to buying on the basis of sustainability and the environment compared with older shoppers. They are much more willing to purchase second-hand clothing, which suggests that when they become home-owners this mindset could translate into them embracing the reuse of white goods.
For buyers of reused goods from the charity shops, which have been through the Environcom processing plants, Stephenson says they receive a six-month guarantee (from Environcom) that gives consumers some confidence in the transaction. What would also help the take-up of reusedgoods by shoppers in the UK is the introduction of incentives by the Government such as removing VAT from such items.
As well as the environmental upsides of reused goods Stephenson also points to the financial benefits. A washing machine for instance would generate a mere £5 in scrap value from recycling but for resale it would generate around £80: “It’s so much more profitable and makes economic sense all round.”
Glynn Davis, editor, Retail Insider