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Hidden treasure troves of scarce natural resources may be buried within households’ unused electronic gadgets, a new survey by the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) warned.
Recycling these gadgets could help reduce the threat of depleting natural resources mined from the earth. The RSC warned that failure to encourage households and industry to recycle the approximately 40 million unused gadgets languishing in UK homes could herald major problems down the line.
Carried out by market research company Ipsos MORI, the poll of 2,353 people found that more than half of UK households have stashed away one unused electrical device in their homes. Meanwhile, 45 per cent of respondents said they own between two and five unused devices. A quarter of respondents said they kept an unused laptop.
The main reason to keep these gadgets was to have access to a spare device. A smaller number (14 per cent) of unused devices holders reported they would keep them in order to sell them.
Data and security was found to be a key issue deterring households from recycling their e-waste, with more than a third of respondents stating that this was a concern. 29 per cent stated that they simply did not know where to go to recycle their old technology waste.
“We need action now – from governments, manufacturers and retailers – to make reuse and recycling much easier, and we must enable a new generation of chemistry talent to help. The UK has a tremendous opportunity to become a world leader in this and set an example for other nations to follow,” said Robert Parker, CEO of the Royal Society of Chemistry.
Despite these worrying figures, the UK is among the most enthusiastic European nations when it comes to recycling e-waste, according to 2016 Eurostat data (see chart). According to these figures, UK recycles half of all its electrical and electronic rubbish.
A 2017 report published by the United Nations University suggested that the amount of electronic junk grew globally by eight per cent in two years and that only one-fifth of e-waste would be recycled. The Global E-waste Monitor report found that UK citizens bin between 20 and 25 kg of e-waste each year.
The study also found that being aware of the elements contained in mobile devices - such as toxic substances and rare elements - could make 59 per cnet more likely to recycle their old devices. In other words, if people are aware that resources are scarce and their recycling could help alleviate pressure on scarcity and mitigate mining in conflict zones, they are more willing to recycle.
Almost all mobile phones contain 31 different chemical elements, the RSC said. Rare smartphone elements at risk to be running out in less than 100 years include Gallium, Arsenic, Silver, Yttrium, Tantalum, and Indium. There are just 20 years’ of Indium supply remaining, according to a video from the RSC.
The RSC recommendations that retailers “need to introduce take-back schemes – where people can be assured that their data will be securely wiped, and their devices will be efficiently recycled”. Manufacturers should build repairability and recyclability into designs from the beginning, while the government should provide consistent guidelines and infrastructure to facilitate a circular economy, the organisation added.
To act as a role model, the RSC stated it had recently held a staff tech amnesty, in which it consulted with colleagues to bring in their old personal devices for recycling.
This article first appeared on eandt.theiet.org
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