The electrical products working group will look to gather a clear evidence base for reducing the embodied carbon impact of certain items, and develop a business case for action. A significant chunk of this work will centre around the economic benefits of reducing product returns, edie understands.

WRAP’s special advisor for electronic products Gerrard Fisher said that in the UK, product return rates for electrical items were typically between 1-3%, representing £0.2-0.6bn in lost value to retailers. When you consider the UK electricals market is worth £20bn, he added, that was a significant chunk.

Fisher, who was speaking at a 2 degrees webinar on how businesses can reduce the cost and impact of e-waste, argued that one key area that needed addressing was “early failure” products – items that break down earlier than the market average.

He said WRAP was starting to look at the problem and how it related to the embodied greenhouse gas impact of products, but stressed it was “very early work”.

“We are looking at further research on this area at the moment and the different interventions that might be made to reduce the environmental impacts of products,” he revealed.

Fisher said there was a pressing need to increase product longevity and improve design for reuse and disassembly – WRAP has developed a lifetime optimisation tool for designers which allows them to calculate how long a product should last before it starts to generate an environmental payback.

“We think it’s important to consider extending the life of these products, but we understand some businesses might be reticent [to do this] … but reducing product returns under warranty will give you a direct financial benefit and better brand reputation,” he maintained.

So far, WRAP has undertaken design reviews on three types of electrical products and is looking to work with manufacturers to extend this work. The organisation is also looking to identify business models that incentivise product return for reuse.

“We think there is scope for companies to pay people to bring their items back and then turn them around and sell them on for a profit,” Fisher said.

He added: “The main thing with reuse of products is that there is significantly greater profit [to be made] than just recycling the material – that’s something a business user of electrical and electronic items should bear in mind.”

Outputs from the electrical products working group are likely to feed into the wider work of WRAP’s product sustainability forum set up in June which will attempt to develop a more holistic approach to addressing product lifecycle assessment.

Maxine Perella

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