The UK is the second highest producer of electronic waste globally, with much of this being improperly collected and treated. This is stated in the first report of session 2019-2021 ‘Electronic Waste and Circular Economy’, published today by the Environmental Audit Committee, a House of Commons select committee charged with scrutinising government policy.

The report especially emphasises the environmental and social consequences of harmful chemical leaching associated with electronic waste, alongside the increasing geo-political concerns and resource scarcity of compositional critical raw materials.

The EAC report urges Government to take action through a number of detailed recommendations, including the setting of ambitious and long-term targets for collection, reuse and recycling of e-waste and that this action is undertaken to a ‘very high standard’.

The report also recommends that, ‘as a matter of urgency’, online retailers and marketplaces have the same take-back responsibilities that physical retailers will have in 2021. The document notes the exceptional pressure high streets have experienced this year, and that exempting e-retailers will deepen entrenched competitive disadvantages.

Ban planned obsolescence

Furthermore, the report underlines the need for online marketplaces to fully conform to compliance laws, and pay the same producer responsibility fees as other suppliers of electronic goods. It also urges Government to ban products manufactured with purposefully short life-times, via planned obsolescence. Moreover, it recommends mandatory labelling that states the expected lifetime and repairability index of all electronic products.

It calls for assurances from manufacturers that their products can be easily dismantled and subsequently recycled at waste sites – the report recommends this be done through incentivisation, and ‘potentially through an extended producer responsibility system’.

These are just some of the proposals outlined, other sections advise stronger enforcement activity from the Environment Agency in England and a diversion of funds from Energy from Waste plants to higher quality recycling infrastructure.

If adopted and used in conjunction, these measures could produce an electronics market that ‘inspires innovation, improves quality of life and contributes to the prosperity of the UK and sustainable development abroad’.

Legislate to increase product lifetimes

Head of Policy, Robbie Staniforth commented “We welcome many of the findings contained within this excellent report. There is simply too much short-termism in the current system of producer responsibility with little foresight on recycling and reuse ambitions in the UK. However, what this report outlines is that action is needed beyond merely setting ambitious recycling and reuse targets.”

“To make good on their promise of a more circular economy in their 2018 Resources and Waste Strategy, the Government need to legislate to increase product lifetimes, specifically relating to software updates and repairability. While it is fashionable to talk about a transition to a circular economy, the basics of the waste hierarchy should not be forgotten.”

“Those manufacturers who rethink and redesign products with the environment in mind should be rewarded in a new producer responsibility system. Likewise, the sale of low-cost, short-life products, which are emblematic of just how linear our current economy is, should be discouraged through regulation.”

If you have any questions about how the report may impact you, please contact our team.

EAC report

Download the EAC report here