UK businesses and households produce 1.45 million tonnes of e-waste a year, equating to 23.9kg of e-waste each year per capita, which places the UK as the second highest producer in the world.  

What is e-waste? 

Electronic waste, or e-waste, refers to any product with electrical components that businesses and households dispose of, including laptops, tablets, phones, televisions, air conditioners and printers. The proliferation of electronic devices among businesses and households is causing a major environmental problem since unwanted electronics are often sent to landfill with little consideration for the reusable resources they contain.  
Electronics are rich with non-renewable resources, such as copper, silver, aluminium, lithium, cobalt and gold. Therefore, by generating high levels of e-waste without considering a device’s reusable properties, businesses, households and countries are throwing away valuable resources and materials. In the UK alone, it is estimated that over £370m in precious metals and materials have been dumped.    
“E-Waste, or WEEE (waste electrical and electronic equipment), highlights the role recycling plays within a circular economy,” says Paul Eagleton, technical director at Kenny Waste Management. “The valuable rare earth metals contained within mobile phones, computers, and many home appliances are not renewable, so they must be re-extracted from waste, refined, and then repurposed if we are to reduce dependency on our planet’s finite natural resources. These waste items are only becoming more common as UK businesses scale up and their technology needs grow.”  

“In the current landscape of the industry, the process for recycling WEEE is time-intensive, labour-intensive, and resource-intensive,” Paul adds. “By leveraging the expertise of responsible waste management suppliers, your business can reduce contamination, eliminate the risk of pollution associated with illegal exportation, and in turn increase the viability of WEEE recycling.” 

Exporting the problem  

Just as a business needs to consider their supply chain and the sustainable changes that could be made to it, they also need to consider the path of their waste. At present, many developed countries choose to export their e-waste which may remove the waste from domestic soil, but it doesn’t tackle the issue of global e-waste, reduce reliance on virgin minerals and resources, or improve the world’s reuse and recycling practices.  
The problem is that once e-waste is exported, it becomes largely unregulated. Roughly 40 per cent of the UK’s e-waste is exported illegally to other countries where it is dumped in landfill, causing contaminants to flood water and food supplies within these communities. If a business channels its waste to organisations that choose to export, this contributes to the inefficient disposal of e-waste in other countries. This is seen by many as an attempt to separate from the repercussions of poorly managed waste.  

What to do with your disused tech 

Curbing one of the fastest growing waste streams worldwide is a pressing issue. A key solution is buying refurbished technology.  
Currently, only 2.5 – 10 per cent of electronics are being reused in the UK, meaning a plethora of electronic devices purchased by households and businesses contain virgin materials and resources. This poses a serious problem.  
Taking the example of one of the most prevalent pieces of tech, estimates reveal that up to 80 per cent of a mobile phone can be reused. Circuit boards found inside endless pieces of tech contain gold, platinum and silver as well as battery elements such as lithium, copper, and even rare elements like cadmium.  
If your business’ electronics are reaching their end of life, consider where you’ll be moving them onto next. Rather than heading straight for the dump, think about the materials within your electrical equipment and whether any of these are salvageable. In the UK, companies such as MusicMagpie are working to gather disused tech and repurpose them for further use. There are also an increasing number of manufacturers who will buy back your old tech or trade it for new tech at a discounted price. By engaging in return and upgrade schemes, companies can improve the quality of their in-house tech while responsibly disposing of and reusing old tech returned to manufacturers.  
Waste experts champion innovations in design to reduce e-waste and reliance on raw materials. Paul says:  
“The key challenge and opportunity for the current generation of electronics manufacturers is designing products for longevity that are also easy to recycle. In other words, designing for a circular economy.”  

How to reduce your e-waste 

More importantly, not all tech is useless once you are finished with it and responsible disposal or repurposing isn’t the only way out. Here are some practical tips to reduce your organisation’s e-waste.  
Ensure your present tech has the most recent software upgrades and has been serviced by IT professionals. This will both reduce your e-waste and save you money as you only upgrade to new equipment when it is absolutely necessary to do so.  

  • Ensure your present tech has the most recent software upgrades and has been serviced by IT professionals. This will both reduce your e-waste and save you money as you only upgrade to new equipment when it is absolutely necessary to do so.  
  • Seek out specific e-waste recycling facilities - you can find your local here. 
  • Return to manufacturer in exchange for discounted new tech or repairs.  
  • Buy refurbished – in the UK roughly 206,000 tonnes of additional large and small electricals are being used every year.  
  • Repurpose your current tech – estimates reveal 2.8m tonnes of CO2 could be saved if old small electricals are recycled rather than hoarded or disposed of improperly. That’s equivalent to taking 1.3 million cars off the road. 


Find out more about decarbonising your business with our Demystifying Net Zero resources.

Share this case study

Mark Shepherd

Mark joined the Green Economy team as an advisor to green tech and services businesses providing market intelligence and individual support to drive uptake. His previous role involved working with SMEs to measure their carbon emissions and develop a Net Zero plan. 
He brings experience in sales team leadership, business development and project management across a range of sectors including transport and logistics, international trade, engineering and advanced manufacturing, leadership coaching and peer group mentoring. Mark has also qualified as a domestic energy assessor and has experienced challenging conditions working on high-speed transfer vessels during the construction phase of an offshore windfarm in the Irish Sea.  
Having a strong interest in circular design and innovation in locally generated renewable energy projects, Mark enjoys working with and supporting green tech and service businesses.