WRAP Report Reveals Circular Opportunities For WEEE

Consumer appetite for circular business models, such as take back schemes, is growing, presenting the resources sector with new opportunities to work in partnership with electrical brands and retailers, according to new research from WRAP, the sustainability not-for-profit.

WRAP looked at consumer attitudes to the way people buy, consume and discard their electrical products as part of its new report, Switched on to Value: Powering Business Change, published today. It highlights consumer behaviour as a major determinant in the lifecycle impacts of electrical and electronic products.

Specifically, WRAP’s research found that consumers don’t know how to discard their unwanted electrical items, with fewer than 10% of UK households using household recycling schemes for their unwanted products.

“They will need to set up supply partnerships with organisations that can help deliver these processes and reduce the investment risk. We envisage these relationships to be long and valuable for both – so developing the right partnership is essential.”

In addition, consumers are concerned about personal data, which has discouraged over a third of households from disposing of an electrical product. However, 83% of households are interested in giving unwanted electricals back to retailers through take-back and trade-in schemes, such as the Argos Gadget Trade-in, which can provide customers with the convenience they desire and the reassurance that data will be protected and safely wiped from their devices.

These kinds of circular business models could offer a new channel for recyclers to recover unwanted electricals and offer partnership opportunities for re-use and refurbishment organisations.

The report found:

  • fewer than 10% of households use household recycling schemes to discard electricals
  • 60% of consumers hoard electrical items they no longer use and are discouraged from disposing of them due to personal data concerns
  • 83% of households are interested in retailer take-back schemes
  • half of consumers are willing to buy used products from a reputable retailer

Steve Creed, director at WRAP, said: “As brands and retailers set up new business models it will mean new activities for the company, such as refurbishment, secure data wiping and recycling.

“They will need to set up supply partnerships with organisations that can help deliver these processes and reduce the investment risk. We envisage these relationships to be long and valuable for both – so developing the right partnership is essential.”

Through the electrical and electronic sustainability action plan (esap), WRAP can help the resources sector prepare for the electricals sector’s shift to a more circular economy. By bringing together key players from across the electricals supply chain, esap is providing a platform for collaboration enabling the resources sector to work more closely with brands, retailers and manufacturers.

Emerging Trends

The report also looks at emerging trends, including a rising number of smaller electricals goods, and increasingly more complex home appliances, which suggests a number of new challenges could develop for recyclers.

For example: more wearable tech, digital assistants and smart home products may be lighter and use less critical raw materials than other electricals, however they are likely to present challenges for effective separation of components and adequate value recovery.

In addition, larger goods, such as refrigerators and vacuum cleaners are becoming smarter and more complex and can now include batteries, electronic displays, smart elements and be cordless; making them harder to break down, and placing increasing demands on recyclers to meet regulatory requirements.

esap can help by providing a vital forum for downstream collectors, recyclers and processors to identify and learn about changes in product mix and composition.  A new re-use and recycling working group is being set up to look at the emerging challenges and discuss and identify ways forward.

At present two million tonnes of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) is placed on the UK market each year, and EEE consumption is predicted to increase 19% by 2020. Through easp, WRAP is working with businesses and organisations right across the electricals product life cycle and is aiming to reduce environmental impacts whilst increase economic benefits.

Since its inception, esap has built the evidence base for change, from which it predicts the EEE industry could achieve £4.4 billion in financial benefit, prevent one million tonnes of waste and save 14 million tonnes in CO2 emissions by using resources more sustainably. The action plan is now evolving into esap 2025, where targets (informed by today’s report) will be developed with industry to further drive action.

Switched on to Value: Powering Business Change also looks at extending product life through re-use, product returns and implementing circular business models from theory to practice, as well as the emergence of smarter homes and global trends.

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