MPs criticise Defra for not tackling “e-waste tsunami”



The Environmental Audit Committee has criticised the UK government for making “little progress” to tackle the “e-waste tsunami”.

Four years after the government accepted or partly accepted recommendations from an Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) report, the Committee has raised concerns about the lack of progress on waste, electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE). EAC is calling for more to be done on embedding a circular economy to use, reuse and recycle electronic products.

The Committee said it is encouraged to see that online marketplaces are to be subject to producer responsibility requirements, which it said will level the playing field with high street retailers, in the government’s consultation “Electrical waste: reforming the producer responsibility system”. EAC also said it welcomes proposals for mandatory collection of e-waste.

However, the Committee said the consultation’s “relatively narrow focus” fails to address many of EAC’s 2020 recommendations. Proposals such as ensuring products sold on online marketplaces are compliant with the law, addressing planned obsolescence and making electrical items safe to repair for the consumer are not part of the government’s plans, EAC said.

Despite these extraordinary statistics, it appears the government is yet to grasp fully the scale of the e-waste tsunami.

EAC said that Committee members are “generally concerned” that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) general implementation of producer responsibility policies is “beset by delays”. In November 2020, EAC concluded its inquiry into Electronic Waste and the Circular Economy and made 27 recommendations. The government accepted one and part-accepted 22 of the Committee’s recommendations.

EAC has written to the Secretary of State for Defra Steve Barclay to set out its recommendations. In the letter, the Committee urged the government to expand the scope of the consultation in order to move the UK to a zero-waste economy.

The Committee also sought assurances from Defra that it is “sufficiently well-resourced to make meaningful progress” on the Resources and Waste Strategy.

Commenting on the letter, EAC Chairman, Rt Hon Philip Dunne MP, said: “When the Committee reported on e-waste in 2020, each UK household had 20 unused electronic items hoarded at home, and there were enough unused cables in UK households to go around the world five times. Despite these extraordinary statistics, it appears the government is yet to grasp fully the scale of the e-waste tsunami.

“It is not just the amount of waste created in the sector through planned obsolescence or insufficient recycling schemes, but the significant environmental impact of creating the products in the first place.

“I look forward to receiving the Environment Secretary’s response to see how EAC’s recommendations can help mould this critically important piece of Government policy.”

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