Tuesday, 14 April 2015

How much?

How do we solve the problem of WEEE? Because it is a problem, isn’t it? In our throwaway society we upgrade to the latest gadget as soon as we possibly can, but we are not quite so good at getting rid of the old stuff. A few weeks ago I expounded on a theory of mine that there are hundreds of thousands of tons of supplanted electrical equipment hidden away in cupboards and drawers all over this country, in homes as well as businesses.

Let’s quickly recap the theory. In my flat I have several old phone handsets, an old Virgin television box, a CD/radio, several old alarm clocks, a video player and a broken electric razor. Plus assorted cables for things I no longer own, let alone use. Say 20 kilos? Now the annual target for WEEE collection in the whole of the UK is 490k tons and there are 25 million homes in the UK. If every one of those homes matched my little haul that is 550k tons, over one year’s total collections. And we have not even gone into business WEEE yet. I reckon there would be an equal amount.

According to WRAP about 600k tons of electrical equipment are produced or enter the UK every year, so we are recycling slightly less than we make.

Yes folks, the pile of crap in your cupboard is getting bigger, not smaller! And I would like to thank Thomas Crapper for that word. I have used it a lot in my life. But isn’t that a little scary? I reckon we have about one million tons of WEEE hidden away.

Even if you disagree with my maths and halve that number, it is HUGE. Using some figures WRAP came up with, I just worked out that one million tons of WEEE is worth about £150m. And quite a lot of it is still in good working order. It is just redundant where it is now.

eReco ran an amnesty over Christmas, promising to take our local residents WEEE, render it all data safe if necessary and recycle properly. It was a great success on a local scale. We are planning some more events, and would love to arrange one with you, wherever you are in the UK. Just get in touch if you are interested. But today, I want to pick at this problem.

Why won’t we dispose of it? A quick trip down the local amenity tip and it is gone. I can understand why people might hesitate to get rid of a laptop or a phone, because of the personal data issues, but a video player? A CD/radio?

They work. That’s why. That’s my excuse. I need the video player in case I have an urgent need to play a video at some stage. I do still have some video’s too somewhere. The Virgin box works too. I know they don’t want it back, because my dear old Dad checked, since he is in the same boat.

I am not a hoarder. Not usually. But just because it has a plug or takes a battery I seem to treat WEEE differently to all my other junk. I really don’t know why. But the facts are pretty simple. If we could recycle that one million tons of hidden WEEE we could do a lot of good in this world.

And oh yes, companies like eReco would make some money. Because that is part of the problem too I realise. Despite the fact that I could try and sell my old video player if I wanted to, and discover that...surprise surprise...it isn’t worth anything at all, I am reluctant to give it to anyone else with the skills and the time to recycle it and turn it into some money.

Illogical. Waste has been a business for some time and yes, people profit from it. The problem is that we don’t think of this stuff as waste. Even if it is broken. I had a customer that decided to sell his two old printers on eBay rather than pay £50 to have them collected. He had to set up an account, take photographs and spend time putting it all online. Let’s be generous and say it took him an hour. They did not sell. He tried a free service but he did not have enough for them to collect for free. They quoted him £75. He hummed and hah-ed for another two months before he gave in.

The fact is that until we need the space it is easier not to face our demons. But we really should grow up and do the right thing. One million tons...I can’t get that figure out of my head.