Small gadgets “are virtually never recycled”

Europe fails to recycle most of its electronic waste, according to a study for the European Commission by the United Nations University (UNU).

Small gadgets

Despite producing more than 10 million tonnes of electronic waste a year, just a quarter of medium-sized appliances and 40% of larger appliances are collected for salvage or recycling. But smaller appliances, such as MP3 players, have a collection rate near zero.

“Electronic products have a great positive impact on our lives,” says UNU rector, Konrad Osterwalder. “However, their increasing availability and affordability means that they also present a growing environmental problem, one we all personally need to address. The old saying ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’, applies particularly well to electronic waste.”

However, the study says there is huge potential to increase the recycling rates. “The study suggests possible long-term collection rate targets of around 60% for small appliances like MP3 players and hairdryers as well as for medium-sized audio equipment, microwaves and TVs and 75% for large appliances like refrigerators and washing machines,” says the UNU’s Ruediger Kuehr.

He says that hitting such targets would boost the harvest of e-waste from 2.2 million tons a year to 5.3 million. A study last week showed that millions of mobile phones are scrapped annually in the UK alone.

The report notes that the environmental benefits are different for each type of product, so the authors recommended differentiated collection for each different category of e-waste, such as splitting higher value gadgets out from smaller appliances.

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