Black Friday and pre-Christmas spending sprees will create an e-waste mountain as 5m unwanted electrical items are binned or put in storage in Britain, a campaign group has warned.
The end-of-November sales event triggers the commercial run-up to Christmas and is followed days later by the Cyber Monday e-commerce frenzy, with retailers offering cut-price deals on a range of goods from mobile phones to laptops and smart speakers.
Research by campaign group Material Focus estimates that 5m unwanted electrical items will be thrown away or hoarded after being supplanted by purchases made between Black Friday and Christmas. Material Focus, which runs the recycle your electricals campaign, said any tech sidelined by new purchases should be donated or recycled.
“With so many people experiencing financial hardship or in need of more tech, we all need to consider donating or recycling our old electrical items,” said Scott Butler, executive director of Material Focus. “They are worth almost £160m to those in need. If your old electricals are truly at the end of their life do not throw them away, as they will end up in landfill, please instead recycle them as a minimum.”
The estimates, based on a survey of 2,000 adults, point to at least 2.7m older, unwanted electrical items being sent to landfill and a further 2.2m being hoarded at home. The most popular electrical purchases in the run-up to Christmas include smartphones, headphones, tablets, laptops and speakers.
Britain’s e-waste problem is likely to be replicated worldwide, with analysts estimating that millions of new mobile phones will be bought in the wake of Black Friday, spurred by the latest iPhone launch. Apple will sell 40m iPhones globally between this weekend and Christmas, according to US investment firm Wedbush Securities, despite a chip supply shortage that has hampered production.
Last year an investigation by the environmental audit committee found the UK is trailing behind other countries in tackling e-waste. The UK creates the second highest levels of electronic waste in the world, after Norway, with about 40% of the waste sent abroad.
“For all their protestations of claimed sustainability, major online retailers and marketplaces such as Amazon have so far avoided playing their part in the circular economy by not collecting or recycling electronics in the way other organisations have to,” the MPs said.
On Amazon’s UK website, recommendations for dealing with unwanted electrical goods include taking them to a charity or recycling them at a local authority-owned facility. Earlier this year ITV News filmed Amazon destroying scores of unwanted electrical products at a warehouse in Dunfermline. Amazon said none of the items went to landfill.
The value of recyclable material abandoned within dumped electronics runs into billions of dollars, according to estimates. Thrown-away computers, smartphones, tablets and other electronic waste have a potential value of $62.5bn (£47bn) each year in large part due to the precious metals they contain, which include gold, silver, copper and platinum.