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HomeEarthNearly £1 billion worth of precious materials could be saved if all our electricals were recycled

Nearly £1 billion worth of precious materials could be saved if all our electricals were recycled

Nearly £1 billion worth of precious materials could be saved if all our electricals were recycled

Nearly £1 billion worth of precious materials could be saved if all our electricals were recycled


  • Material Focus launches its Electrical Waste: Challenges and Opportunities research to highlight the value hidden inside our electricals held on to unused in UK homes and in the waste stream
  • UK households are holding unto 880 million unused electrical items and throwing away 103,000 tonnes of electricals, costing the economy in £488 million lost valuable raw materials
  • 343,000 tonnes of electricals are being lost through being stolen or illegally exported – £439 million in lost valuable raw materials
  • 7.98 million tonnes CO2 of CO2 could also be saved equivalent to 3.84 million cars being taken off the road per annum if those electricals that are thrown away, held onto, stolen or illegally exported were recycled

New research from Material Focus has identified that as the demand for electrical items soars amongst consumers, more of these items are either being held onto in UK homes, thrown away, illegally exported or stolen. The research, “Electrical Waste: Challenges and Opportunities” found that the materials contained inside these “lost electricals” are worth £927 million which could, if recycled, make a significant contribution to the UK economy.  

Using updated United Nations (Unitar) research the report identifies a steep rise in illegal waste exports (an increasing global issue), which is now at 187,000 tonnes, and the rise in theft (linked to rising metal prices over the last three years) which is now at 156,000 tonnes. These together would be worth £439 million to the UK economy if they were recycled in the UK. 

The report, which is an update on research that was first published in 2021, uses publicly available waste data flow to identify how the different UK regions contribute to the total UK waste electricals collected and recycled from local authorities. 

  • South East – 13,700 tonnes
  • London – 12,400 tonnes
  • North West – 11,400 tonnes
  • Wales  – 10,900 tonnes
  • East of England – 9,500 tonnes
  • Scotland – 9,100 tonnes
  • South West – 8,800 tonnes
  • West Midlands – 8,800 tonnes
  • Yorkshire & The Humber – 8,400 tonnes
  • North East – 4,200 tonnes
  • East Midlands – 7,400 tonnes
  • Northern Ireland – 2,800 tonnes

Scott Butler, Executive Director, Material Focus said:  “We seem to be venturing into an era of hyper-tech-buying. The amount of electricals that we buy and use have soared in recent years by over a third since 2019, whether it’s the latest kitchen FadTech such as an air fryer, to fitness tech and to FastTech. FastTech are cheap small electricals such as mini-fans, charging cables, vapes, earphones and ear-buds.

“When electricals break or become unwanted too many of them end up being thrown away or are held onto unused. This is a significant missed opportunity. With the value of the materials that are inside our electricals increasing by up to 180% over the last 4 years it has never been more important to not lose that value.

“HypnoCat and our Recycle Your Electricals campaign are getting the nation aware of the importance of this issue, and together we can make some big positive change through individual small actions. We can make it easier for more people to reuse and recycle their old and unwanted electricals by offering more and easy to access household and retailer collections. To find your nearest recycling point, search up Recycle Your Electricals and pop in your postcode. The UK also needs to support a regulatory and enforcement system that is equipped to clamp down on illegal exports and theft.” 

Example material price increases since 2019

  • Glass (Borosilicate, silicone dioxide and inorganic) 151% 
  • Copper – 24%
  • Iron – 181%
  • Tin – 33%

Summary of key stats:

  • 2.2 million tonnes of electricals bought / put on the market 
  • 498,000 tonnes of electricals sent to approved electrical recyclers 
  • 880 million items unwanted and unused in UK homes – 30 per household (up from 20 four years ago)
  • 103,000 tonnes of electricals thrown away
  • 187,000 tonnes of illegal exports
  • 156,000 tonnes of stolen items

This is the second time that Material Focus has analysed where electricals move to once they are bought – whether they are held onto in UK homes, recycled, thrown away, stolen or illegally exported. Between 2017 and 2021 there has been a reduction in the weight of electricals being thrown away by UK households, some of which is due to products becoming much lighter and smaller. However there has been an increase in electricals being either held onto in UK homes or illegally exported and products being sold illegally (new products are entering the market from producers that aren’t complying with UK regulations). To move towards a circular economy, and to ensure that the UK can better manage its access to critical raw materials, recycling the precious materials contained inside waste electricals should be significantly increased. Recycling electricals needs to be made easier by offering more household and retailer collections. The UK also needs to support a regulatory and enforcement system that is equipped to clamp down on illegal exports and theft.

For more information on how to recycle your electricals, and to find your nearest recycling point, search recycle your electricals and pop in your postcode.  


For media enquiries please contact kate@materialfocus.org.uk mobile 07714 708416

Content available – origami electricals made out of cash, scans illustrating the precious materials contained inside electricals (Images and video from Lumafield)

Material Focus is a not-for-profit organisation whose goal is to stop the nation throwing away or hoarding all their old, small electricals. Material Focus is delivering the UK-wide Recycle Your Electricals campaign. The campaign is revealing the value hidden in electricals and is making it easier for us all to recycle and reuse the small electricals we no longer need by providing more recycling points as well as providing practical information on how households can reuse and recycle.

The campaign is funded by producers of electrical appliances which pays for a range of activities, including communications, behaviour change activities, increased recycling projects and research. Ultimately the aim is to support actions that will help the UK increase the levels of reuse and recycling of waste electricals.

Anthesis – the Sustainability Activator. Anthesis is the largest group of dedicated sustainability experts in the world: a team of 1250+ people, operating in 40 countries, serving more than 4,000 clients. They exist to shape a more productive and resilient world by helping organisations transition to new models of sustainable performance. Their team combines broad and deep sustainability expertise with the commercial and operational capabilities it takes to conceive and deliver real change.

UK Electrical Waste: Challenges & Opportunities 2023. This is a report on electrical sales (EEE) and waste electrical flows (WEEE) in the UK. The study, conducted by Anthesis, builds on original research from 2019/2020 (utilising data from 2017. It is a robust inventory of the different ways working electricals EEE and waste electricals WEEE flow through the UK economy. Understanding these flows helps to identify actions to improve reuse and recycling in the UK.

Using a mix of new and updated data sources the research identifies types and volumes of electrical flows and pathways in the UK. 2021 is used as the most recent year when comparable datasets are published or available for analysis. The research has also taken new approaches in several of the working electricals and waste electricals EEE and WEEE pathways including:

  • Placed on market (POM); new modelling based upon United Nations University KEYS (UNU-KEYS) data points,
  • Use, retention, held unused and residence times; new Waste over Time modelling by Small World Consulting based upon UNU-KEYS data points,
  • Illegal exports; calculations based upon new research from UNITAR.

The remaining pathways have been calculated using the same methodology as the previous earlier study, but have been updated to reflect 2021 as a new baseline year. 

Additional insights and information have been gained from industry stakeholders including producers, retailers, WEEE producer compliance schemes, waste management companies and recyclers. In addition And Anthesis in-house waste experts and Material Focus’ own expertise have also contributed to this work.

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