Kerbside scheme to cut electronic waste could be launched in UK

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The UK government is considering nationwide kerbside collection of used electrical appliances and gadgets to help improve the recycling of electronic waste.

Local councils in some areas already collect broken washing machines and toasters in schemes funded by waste collection fees that all retailers selling electrical goods must pay. The government is consulting on the best way to implement such schemes across the country and how to fund them.

In a response to parliament’s environmental audit committee report on e-waste, the government said it was also considering new measures that would increase the obligation for online marketplaces and retailers, such as Amazon, to take back unwanted or broken electrical goods.

The government also said it was considering forcing companies to improve labelling on products to make clear how easy it was to repair an item and whether it contained recyclable parts.

Under rules in place since 2014, those selling more than 5 tonnes of electronic and electrical equipment each year must finance the costs of collection, treatment, recovery and recycling of those materials when they become waste.

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Retailers can do this by paying fees to local authorities to process electrical goods brought back to council-run waste recycling centres, or organising the collection of old items from homes when delivering new goods.

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Since January, retailers with stores have also had to enable customers to bring unwanted goods back to their outlets.

Online sellers and marketplaces are not obligated to take back items themselves, which is more convenient for some shoppers and potentially more costly. Currently they only have to pay fees to help fund council waste centres.

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MPs say this system is not working as there is too much uncollected or incorrectly collected electronic waste.

Philip Dunne MP, the chair of the environmental audit committee, said: “Levelling the playing field for online giants and physical retailers in the take-back of e-waste is important if we are to cut down on the amount of e-waste disposed of incorrectly.

“We need to make urgent improvements to the reuse and recycling of such products, and I am pleased that the government has recognised the role online retailers and marketplaces should play in taking increased responsibility for the e-waste streams they help generate.”

A spokesman for Amazon said it had “supported” the recycling of 10,000 tonnes of electronic waste in the UK over the past decade and that it would continue working with the government to tackle the problem

“Amazon is committed to minimising waste and helping our customers to reuse, repair and recycle their products. We provide easy ways for customers to recycle electronics through pre-paid postal return and home collection services on our Amazon Recycling website,” the spokesman said.