Losing millions on gadgets with a throwaway culture

One in three adults send a broken or functioning mobile phone to a landfill each year. Photo / Thinkstock
One in three adults send a broken or functioning mobile phone to a landfill each year. Photo / Thinkstock

The British are throwing away a fortune by failing to realise how much their old gadgets are worth, according to new research which shows that more than 17 million devices valued at a total of £762 million ($1.445 billion) are needlessly binned each year.

One in three adults sends a broken or functioning mobile phone, MP3 music player, satnav, games console or digital camera to landfills each year, according to mobile phone operator O2 - but the same items would fetch an average of £43.54 if they were taken to one of the growing number of recycling centres.

Although some electronic gadgets contain hazardous contaminants such as lead and cadmium, it is not illegal to send them to landfills. However, against a backdrop of near-record - and rising - commodity prices and growing environmental awareness, the pressure is on politicians, companies and consumers to recycle more of their discarded gadgets.

Sainsbury's, Boots, Asda and Royal Mail are among the companies that pay for used mobiles, satnavs, game consoles, digital cameras and MP3 players, as long as they are in reasonable condition. Tesco offers a more comprehensive service, paying cash for 3000 different products including kettles, toasters, irons and flat-screen televisions - although it pays in loyalty points rather than cash.

Susanne Baker, senior policy adviser on climate change at EEF, the association representing British manufacturers, said throwing away electronic gadgets represented a huge waste.

"Electronic equipment in particular is rich with materials which are in high demand but scarce supply. We know many manufacturers are worried about securing stable supplies of these materials at the right price."

Jonathan Porritt, founder and chairman of Forum for the Future, a charity dedicated to sustainable business, added: "In such difficult times, with austerity the order of the day, sustainability keeps on delivering real benefits for customers, communities and shareholders."

The research findings are the latest example of how Britain is failing to take advantage of the opportunities to recycle valuable materials. The country exports 15 million tonnes of industrial waste a year - about half of it valuable scrap metal - because it lacks sufficient recycling facilities.

The waste exports are so large that they make up a sixth of Britain's total exports by volume.

- Independent

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