UK government lays out plan to divert people’s broken gizmos from landfill

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Joined: Nov 2016

The UK government hopes to make it easier for folks to reuse and recycle electrical goods rather than consign old gear to the landfill.

The move follows the country passing right-to-repair legislation [PDF], much of which came into force on July 1, 2021 – although manufacturers were given a two-year grace period to make spare parts and such available. Sadly, the rules target mostly white goods – think dishwashers – rather than tablets, laptops, and smartphones.

The law mirrored EU regulation; the European Commission early last year also added smartphones and tablets to the list of devices that must be repairable.

America has taken steps to ensure some gizmos are fixable, although progress has been a little stop-start as some elements of the industry pushed back against the notion of allowing citizens to fix their own kit rather than buying replacements.

Back in the UK, and the latest plans are all about dealing with how old electrical goods are disposed of. “500 tonnes of Christmas lights are discarded every year in the UK,” thundered officials, neatly side-stepping the modern festive dilemma of spending hours untangling a cord that may or may not still produce colorful illumination and has spent 12 months languishing in a cupboard versus simply ordering a new one from any number of retailers.

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The issue being addressed is what to do with that cord that has one failed light. Rather than angrily fling it into a trash receptacle destined for landfill, the proposal is that there should be a UK-wide collection of waste electrical gear directly from households, sparing people a trudge to the nearest municipal facility. This service would be financed by the hardware producers rather than the taxpayer.

The government has also suggested collection points at large retailers where broken gear can be left without the requirement to buy a new replacement, and make it a requirement for large, older electrical items to be collected for recycling when a new item is delivered.

It will, however, be a while before anything actually happens. A ten-week consultation process is underway in which the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs will be getting together with industry to ponder what to do.

While the statistics are alarming – the government trotted out figures showing a four-fold increase in the throwing away of vapes, for example, which stands at “five million per week” – more alarming for techies everywhere is the realization that the crates of useless tech collected over a lifetime really need to be dealt with.

Recycling Minister Robbie Moore said: “We all have a drawer of old tech somewhere that we don’t know what to do with and our proposals will ensure these gadgets are easy to dispose of without the need for a trip to your local tip.”

Your humble hack has several drawers of old tech and cables hoarded over decades “because you never know.” Making it easier to dispose of them will not, we fear, deal with the underlying problem. ®


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