A staggering 471 million small electrical items, categorised as “Fast Tech” products including disposable vapes, cables, lights, mini fans, and USB sticks, were discarded in the UK last year, as revealed by research from Material Focus, a not-for-profit organisation. These items, often considered the fast fashion of the electronic world, have become the fastest-growing segment of electronic waste (e-waste). The average household possesses around 30 unused electrical items, underscoring a culture of disposability.

The affordability of these items, with an average cost of £4, encourages consumers to perceive them as disposable. However, these products are not designed to be short-lived; they contain valuable raw materials such as copper wires and lithium batteries, all of which can be recycled. Despite this, many consumers discard these items without realising their recyclable potential.

Material Focus commissioned a survey of 2,000 people, revealing the alarming statistics about the disposal of Fast Tech items. The research found that the UK disposed of:

  • 260 million disposable vapes
  • 30 million LED, solar, and decorative lights
  • 26 million cables
  • 10 million USB sticks
  • 7 million cordless headphones
  • 5 million mini fans

Scott Butler, the executive director of Material Focus, emphasised the importance of raising awareness about recycling these items. “Anything with a plug, battery, or cable can be recycled, and there’s somewhere near you to do it,” he stated.

Globally, the issue of electronic waste is substantial. Research from the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Forum indicates that consumers worldwide discard 9 billion kg of items like cables, toys, vapes, and novelty clothes, often not recognising them as e-waste.

Material Focus’s research also highlighted a positive trend: the amount of electrical waste has decreased since 2017, partially due to lighter electrical items and increased recycling rates. Currently, 60% of people claim to recycle their electricals. However, the study revealed that households continue to hoard unused electrical items. The research indicated that each home has approximately 30 such items that could be put to better use.

Nadiya Catel-Arutyunova, a sustainability adviser at the British Retail Consortium, emphasised the obligation of retailers to assist customers in disposing of their old electrical products, regardless of where the items were initially purchased.

Material Focus aims to encourage recycling and is funded by fees paid by electrical producers when they do not meet government recycling targets.