45% of young people have never recycled a phone



New research highlights that 45% of young people (aged 16-26) have never recycled a phone and 38% have disposed of their phone in general waste.

Hubbub and Virgin Media O2’s Time After Time E-waste Report examines the behaviours and attitudes of Gen Z around e-waste. The report, which includes input from environmental think tank, Green Alliance, polled 3,000 people alongside a series of focus groups with 16-26 year-olds and a range of interviews with industry experts.

The survey found that 51% of respondents trust that electricals get recycled when given to a recycler, while 25% are unsure and 24% don’t believe their items get recycled.

Time After Time phone
In 2022, Virgin Media O2 and Hubbub launched the £500,000 Time After Time Fund.

The report recommends that industry figures build more trust with consumers by “communicating authentically” on the issue of e-waste and better-educating people on how to keep phones in use and when to recycle a device.

It also highlights that young people are more likely to recycle their devices if they know about the services available and they’re more convenient to access, such as on high streets or via supermarkets. 21% of respondents said they were put off recycling a device due to a lack of awareness of how to do so.

16-26 year olds are the age group most likely to buy a second-hand device, the research shows. 45% of respondents said they have brought a refurbished or second-hand phone and 44% said they received a second-hand phone from a family member or friend.

However, the study found some respondents had negative perceptions about the quality of refurbished devices, such as concerns over battery life and data security.

Gavin Ellis, Co-Founder of Hubbub, commented: “Our research suggests 66% of young people are unaware that smartphones contain precious metals. They also replace their phones more often than any other age group.

“They’re savvy and keen to do the right thing, but it’s evident they need much more support to do this, including receiving information on the subject in a tone or format that speaks to them.”

Green Alliance has suggested a series of recommendations aimed at government, manufacturers and local authorities to address e-waste. These include:

  • Building repairability into devices.
  • Mandatory warranties and greater consumer rights to enable customers to keep devices for longer.
  • Better labelling/information for customers e.g. repairability, recyclability and environmental impact.
  • Tax changes and fiscal incentives to make actions like repair and purchasing second-hand more financially appealing.

Virgin Media O2 and Hubbub launched the £500,000 Time After Time Fund in 2022 to support projects tackling e-waste and supporting circularity. Ten organisations have received funding to roll out projects which encourage recycling of electronic goods, or support devices being used time after time.

Winners of the fund include a mobile repair bus which collects e-waste in hard-to-reach communities across Cornwall; a training programme in Hull to upskill young people to repair laptops and learn essential digital skills; workshops to teach schoolchildren to repair electrical items in Bristol and repair cafés in universities across the country.

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