A report in the Financial Times gives Southwark residents answers to what happens to the vast amount of e-waste we each create: 24.9Kg per person in 2016. This is greater than the wasteful US citizen: 19.4Kg and is way above the world average 6.1Kg.
Southwark’s e-waste finds its way to the sorting centre off the Old Kent Road run by Southwark’s contractors, French company Veolia. This is not typical of the entire country and we are fortunate to have this very large waste sorting facility. Veolia has plants which will receive our metals and lightbulbs and recycle them. It has also re-opened an HDPE plastic recycler in Dagenham which had closed for lack of Government support.
In the UK we recycle very little plastic and e-waste. Until recently we sent the plastic to China but China now refuses it. So the rumour is that we are landfilling or burning it instead. The FT article says the country produces 50m tonnes of e-waste a year, adding to the world’s fastest growing waste stream. Just 20% is recycled. 80% is undocumented. This is hazardous waste containing heavy metals and chemicals which pollute water supplies and the food chain. The UK is Europe’s worst offender for exporting this to developing countries, particularly Africa.
Large e-items find their way to recycling centres. But we put smaller items into our doorstep bins and they will probably not be recycled. There is an obligation on manufacturers to take back and recycle their e-products but they try to pas this duty onto local authorities. With the rapid rise of online retail the take-back obligation has weakened.
The increase in e-waste is so great that some question whether it can ever be recycled and there is pressure to repair items but this has been slow to take off. There are local Restart schemes which repair.
Residents can recycle their e-waste by taking it into Currys PC World which recycles without a purchase. It is very simple. Just take the item into the shop and give it to the counter staff.