Retailers will have to pay for the recycling of consumer electronic waste from 2026

UK households will benefit from improved routes for recycling electronic goods from 2026, under government plans to make manufacturers and retailers pay for household and in-store collection.

Consumers could have electrical waste (e-waste) – from cables to toasters and power tools – collected from their homes or drop off items during a weekly shop, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said in a consultation published on Thursday . The ambition is for retailers, rather than taxpayers, to pick up the tab for these new ways to safely dispose of defunct, often toxic products. The measures must enter into force in two years.

Nearly half a billion small electrical appliances ended up in landfills last year, according to data from the nonprofit Material Focus. The problem was particularly acute at Christmas, when 500 tonnes of Christmas lights were thrown away, the government said.

The latest proposals build on efforts to tackle the issue that Britain helped develop as a member of the EU. This included the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive, which came into force in 2012. As with other waste-related rules, they follow a principle that the producer of the waste pays the bill for its disposal, which the UK and EU have followed in areas such as plastic packaging.

The EU this year adopted policy recommendations for member states to improve the collection of recycled materials, although targets vary by country.

Post-Brexit, Britain has failed to keep pace with some of the EU’s regulatory efforts. The bloc is trying to reduce e-waste with laws that include the right to repair products and require regular phone chargers (USB C) instead of Apple’s specialized lightning charger from 2024. Cables, which are often hoarded and improperly disposed of, are a major contributor to electronic waste.

A lack of effective recycling capacity in areas such as battery processing has also left Britain behind its European peers on a range of recycling rates. An OECD study of UK data shows that the country failed to meet its recycling targets for household electronic waste between 2017 and 2020. The economic think tank’s research shows that “further efforts are needed” for Britain to tackle the illegal dumping and export of electronic waste, including introducing a proposed mandatory waste tracking system.

The struggle to meet recycling targets comes despite Britain being one of the biggest consumers of such items, according to a study by consumer group U-Switch based on data from the Global E-Waste Monitor report. Britain was second only to Norway in the amount of electrical waste the country generates per person. Similar data on e-waste is patchy and needs improvement, MPs warn.

Measures aimed at alleviating the e-waste problem now include requiring larger retailers to create “in-store electrical collection points” free of charge, and without the need to exchange it for a new purchase.

From 2026, physical retailers and online sellers would have to collect broken or rejected large electrical goods, including fridges and cookers, when supplying a replacement product, Defra said.

Recycling Secretary Robbie Moore said: “Every year, millions of household electrical appliances in the UK end up in the bin instead of being properly recycled or reused. This is a complete waste of our natural resources and must stop.”

He added: “We all have a drawer of old technology lying around somewhere that we don’t know what to do with, and our proposals will ensure that these gadgets can be easily disposed of without having to go to a local landfill. Our plans will also encourage the move to a more circular economy and create new jobs by making recycling easier.”

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