BT introduces fines for hardware hoarders in bid to reduce waste

Telecoms giant BT will charge wi-fi customers £50 if they do not send their routers back at the end of their contracts, in an effort to minimise its plastic and electronic waste.

BT estimates the move will mitigate one million waste items per year

BT estimates the move will mitigate one million waste items per year

The firm altered its contracts in December to include a clause stating that it retains ownership of routers and TV set-top boxes.

This week, BT confirmed that it will be enforcing that clause by charging customers who fail to return their hardware a fine of £50 per router and £60-115 per TV set-top box. The fine is applicable to domestic and business customers alike.

BT said the move is being made to ensure a circular economy for its hardware. Once the hardware is returned, the company refurbishes items so they can be reused.

In order to implement the new ownership model, BT has scrapped upfront payments for hardware and launched a take-back service. Under the service, customers can either post used hardware to BT or drop it off at any BT or EE store.

BT said in a statement that the move should prevent around one million pieces of hardware from going to landfill or incineration annually. As routers are “locked” to BT and not recycled by local authorities via kerbside collections, BT believes the majority of its used hardware is hoarded or binned.

"This will help to limit the amount of waste going into landfill, and allows us to refurbish more equipment and move towards a more sustainable model," the statement reads.

The charges will be rolled out to BT’s EE and PlusNet subsidiaries in the future, the statement confirms.

BT is notably aiming to become a net-zero business by 2045.

Tech waste conundrum

Research from the United Nations University (UNU) found that more than 44 million metric tonnes of electronic waste was generated globally in 2016 – up 8% on 2014 levels - with just 20% documented as recycled. Experts believe that figure reached 50 million metric tonnes in 2018, with recycling rates stagnating and a further 21% tonnage increase by 2021. 

This makes electronic waste the fastest-growing domestic waste stream in the world.

And, according to the Royal Society of Chemistry, the hoarding of old gadgets in homes is also hampering progress towards a circular electronics economy. The body claims that 96% of Brits are keeping one or more small technology items which they never plan to use again. It cites a lack of recycling infrastructure and information, along with concerns about data security, as key causes of low recycling and reuse rates.

In response to the issue, BT rivals Virgin and Sky have both implemented take-back schemes for hardware, while the likes of GiffGaff and CEX have campaigned to increase the uptake of refurbished mobile phones. Elsewhere in the tech sector, Dixons Carphone, Google and Apple have both expanded their take-back and recycling efforts in the past year.

But green groups have repeatedly lamented slow policy action on e-waste. Earlier this year, the UK Government approved new measures requiring some retailers to offer in-store takeback schemes. While this move was welcomed, many had wanted the requirement to extend to home and office deliveries also.

Another key policy change comes from the EU, which last year passed new legislation requiring all manufacturers of lighting, washing machines, dishwashers and fridges to make appliances longer-lasting and provide greater support for repairing them, including the provision of parts for a decade after purchase.

Sarah George



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