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UK urges tech companies to help tackle excessive e-waste in damning report

The country generates more e-waste per person than any country besides Norway.
Kris Holt, @krisholt
November 27, 2020
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DHAKA, BANGLADESH - 2020/09/14: Old TV components are discarded inside at a TV recycling scrap yard in Dhaka. (Photo by Zabed Hasnain Chowdhury/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
SOPA Images via Getty Images

A damning report from the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) claims the UK falls well behind other countries in managing electronic waste. Committee members also suggested major companies such as Amazon and Apple discourage recycling and repairs through some of the practices they employ.

The UK generates 23.9kg of e-waste per person each year. That's the second-highest level of e-waste per capita after Norway, according to a recent UN report. 

Much of that waste is incinerated or goes to landfill, while around 40 percent is sent to other countries, often illegally. "In the countries that receive our electronic waste, it is often dumped, with toxic chemicals leaching into the environment and harming people," the EAC wrote.

The report notes online marketplaces like Amazon and eBay aren't always considered retailers or producers. Many products are sold by third-party retailers — around 50 percent of goods in Amazon's case. As such, those platforms aren't obligated to contribute to the collection and recycling of e-waste. The committee urged them to "collect products and pay for their recycling to create a level playing field with physical retailers and producers that are not selling on their platforms.”

The EAC slammed the notion of intentionally shortened device lifespans, too. While that practice might encourage consumers to buy newer products, it has a negative impact on sustainability. 

Committee members also criticized companies for often making it difficult to repair their products, partly because components are often soldered or glued in place. They noted that Apple's repair fees, in particular, "can be so expensive it is more economical to replace the item completely." 

Among the report's recommendations were legal protections for the right to repair and a reduction of VAT on repair services. It also called for a requirement for all producers to collect products and cover the cost of recycling. “Tech companies should now take the lead in creating sustainable and environmentally friendly business models that do not rely on the overexploitation of nature and natural resources," the committee added.

Apple told the Guardian that the report doesn't reflect its efforts to "conserve resources and protect the planet we all share. There are more options for customers to trade in, recycle and get safe, quality repairs than ever before, and our latest Apple Watch, iPad, and iPhone lineup all use recycled material across key components.”

“Amazon is committed to minimizing waste and helping our customers to reuse, repair, and recycle their products, and we provide a range of options that anyone can easily access through the Amazon Second Chance website," an Amazon spokesperson told the publication. “We have supported the recycling of more than 10,000 tonnes of electronic waste in the UK over the last decade.”

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