Released today (18 July), a new study looks at how consumer attitudes affect the lifecycle impacts of used electrical items. According to a survey of more than 4,000 participants, eight out of ten households are interested in giving used electricals back to retailers through take-back and trade-in schemes. WRAP also highlighted that half of customers are willing to buy quality used products from major retailers.

“Our new report presents a powerful case for putting sustainability at the heart of the business model,” WRAP chief executive Marcus Gover said. “Our evidence shows that businesses which have embraced this are more competitive, more resilient and ultimately more successful.”

However, the research shows that consumer awareness around the methods to recycle and reuse electrical items remains low. Fewer than 10% of UK households are using recycling schemes for their unwanted projects, while only two-fifths are aware of product trade-in schemes, WRAP found.

Gadget trade-ins

More than 1.5 million tonnes of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) was generated in 2015. This figure is only likely to increase, with WRAP predicting sales of electrical products to increase by 19% by 2020.

WRAP works with industry through the electrical and electronic equipment sustainability action plan (esap) to pioneer innovative business practices that promote a more circular economy. A collaboration with Argos, for instance, on the rollout of a gadget trade-in service across the retailer’s 788 UK stores, has seen customers offered an immediate quote and redemption for unwanted mobile phones and tablet devices.

The esap programme has built up an evidence base for circular models in electronics, predicting the industry could achieve £4.4bn, prevent one million tonnes of waste and save 14 million tonnes in CO2 emissions by using resources more sustainably.

Emerging trends

Today’s report looks at emerging trends which will present challenges for the reuse of electrical products in the upcoming decade. It predicts a rising number of smaller electricals goods and smart home products which are likely to present challenges for effective separation of components and adequate value recovery.

In addition, larger goods, such as refrigerators and vacuum cleaners are becoming smarter and more complex, making them harder to break down, and placing increasing demands on recyclers to meet regulatory requirements.

Researchers have already called on the electronics sector to embrace closed-loop systems but other than Argos’ take-back scheme and O2’s flagship recycle initiative, progress has been slow. In Asia, the issue is becoming more severe. A record 16 million tonnes of electronic trash, containing both toxic and valuable materials, was generated in a single year – up 63% in five years.

Sector summary: The state of sustainability in retail

edie recently published a new sector summary report exploring the state of sustainability in Britain’s retail industry. The report was produced with input from the BRC and incorporates the key findings from our own industry survey to outline five drivers, challenges and opportunities facing sustainability professionals in the sector.

Case studies from the likes of Argos, Tesco and Amazon are combined with exclusive commentary from retail firms such as Co-Op, M&S and Stella McCartney in the 17-page report, which concludes with a look at some of the latest technologies and innovations which are shaping the retail business models of the future.

Read the retail sector summary here.

George Ogleby

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