Gadgets Hoarded In Our Drawers Contain Endangered Elements

21 August 2019, 15:26

Lizzy Ratcliffe of the Royal Society of Chemistry, with some of the redundant tech gathered by staff.
Lizzy Ratcliffe of the Royal Society of Chemistry, with some of the redundant tech gathered by staff. Picture: PA

A study has estimated that as many as 40 million unused gadgets are being left in drawers in UK homes, but they contain valuable elements that are going to waste.

The Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) is concerned about a shortage of "rare earth elements" that are going to waste when gadgets are left to stockpile in homes.

Mobile phones alone contain precious materials such as gold, with natural sources of six of the elements that make up such products set to run out within the next 100 years.

The organisation carried out an online survey - completed by more than 2,000 people - which revealed that half of UK households had at least one unused electronic device.

45% of homes had between two and five unused devices.

Around a quarter of UK households have an unused mobile phone.

Robert Parker, the CEO of the Royal Society of Chemistry, with some of the redundant tech gathered by staff.
Robert Parker, the CEO of the Royal Society of Chemistry, with some of the redundant tech gathered by staff. Picture: PA

Recycling gadgets

Most people admitted they had no plans to recycle their collection.

Much more effort needs to be made to recycle old gadgets in order to recover precious metals and other rare materials, the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) has said.

"We are approaching the point of no return for some of these materials," the RSC’s chief executive Robert Parker said in a statement.

"Over our lifetime, one person in the UK will produce around three tonnes of electronic waste. However, there are indications that number could increase as the number of smart, wireless or connected devices in the home increase."

Around a third (37%) of survey responders who had hung onto old devices said fears around data and security put them off recycling old tech. But a "factory reset" should protect personal data.

29% said they didn’t know where to go to recycle items like this.

The RSC plans to publish a paper setting out recommendations to improve e-waste recycling later this year.

"We need action now - from governments, manufacturers and retailers - to make reuse and recycling much easier, and we must enable a new generation of chemistry talent to help," Mr Parker said.

"The UK has a tremendous opportunity to become a world leader and set an example for other nations to follow."

Gadgets hoarded in homes in the UK include mobile phones, games consoles, laptops, iPods, CD or cassette players, TVs and E-readers.

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