Cheap electronic items have increasingly ended up in landfills. Vicente Méndez / Moment / Getty Images
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Humans love portable electronics, from the Walkman in the 1980s to the disposable vapes and handheld, miniature fans of today. Over the years, as demand for these electronic gadgets has soared, they have gotten cheaper, leading to an enormous amount of waste.
In the past year, 471 million small, inexpensive everyday electronics like headphones and remote controls made their way into landfills in the United Kingdom, according to research from the nonprofit Material Focus, reported The Guardian.
Material Focus Executive Director Scott Butler called these items “FastTech.”
According to the research, 16 cheap electronic items per second were bought in the UK last year, including 4.8 million miniature fans; 9.8 million USB sticks; 26 million cables; 29 million decorative, LED and solar lights; and 260 million disposable vapes.
“People should think carefully about buying some of the more frivolous… items in the first place,” Butler said, adding that consumers may not know these electronics contain valuable recyclable materials like lithium, copper and stainless steel, as The Guardian reported. The recycled components can be used in medical devices, wind turbines and electric cars.
“FastTech is seriously rivalling Fast Fashion, and is causing similar headaches,” Butler said, as reported by Circular Online. “But as FastTech items are quite cheap and small, people may not realise that they contain valuable materials and will just pop them in the bin, meaning we lose everything inside them instead of recycling them into something new.”
People have gotten accustomed to recycling large items like refrigerators, the nonprofit said, while many smaller electronics get forgotten, The Guardian reported.
“We want to get the message across that anything with a plug, battery or cable can be recycled and there’s somewhere near you to do it,” Butler said.
Material Focus found that the average household in the UK had four to five chargers, two to three remotes and the same number of cell phones.
An online tool created by Material Focus can help guide consumers to recycling locations near them.
Consumers correlate inexpensive items with being disposable, the nonprofit said. It estimated that residents of the UK have spent more than $3.4 billion on cheap electronics in the past year.
Material Focus called the wasted electronic items “the tip of the iceberg” compared to the overall electronic waste in the UK. They said that more than 110,000 tons of electronics were thrown away annually, with 880 million items sitting unused in homes across the UK.
A survey of 2,000 people conducted by the nonprofit found that each year, the average adult in the UK buys nine cheap electronic products and disposes of eight of them. The most commonly trashed items were handheld vacuums, mini speakers and step counters.
“The scale of the issue is huge, but there’s an easy solution – just as the trend for recycling and repurposing fashion has grown and grown, we want to encourage the nation to recycle fast tech, guilt-free and fuss-free,” Butler said, as the Institution of Engineering and Technology reported.