(Pocket-lint) – The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) – set up by Parliament to monitor the environmental impact of policies and programmes – has published the findings of its investigation into electric waste in the UK that started in March 2020.
The findings will come as no surprise, highlighting that there were 1.5 million tonnes of electric waste generated in 2019 in the UK, with up to 40 per cent of that waste being exported, rather than dealt with nationally. The UK is, according to the report, the second highest global producer of e-waste.
The problem is that a lot of electrical waste ends up in landfill where the precious components (like gold, lithium and cobalt) are wasted, when they should be reclaimed for use in other industries. The AEC highlights that e-waste that’s shipped overseas is often just dumped or incinerated, while in the UK some is shredded and sent to landfill. Aside from those elements than can be reclaimed, there’s also the problem of toxic elements leaching into the environment.
Releasing the findings of the report, the EAC highlights two tech giants, Apple and Amazon, and calls them out on their environmental record:
“Tech companies such as Apple have been found to glue and solder together internal components making any repair nearly impossible,” the EAC says.
“The EAC found that consumers do not have control over the products they own; they cannot take components out to repair themselves and they cannot access manuals on how issues can be fixed. Instead the charges proposed for repair by Apple in particular can be so expensive it is more economical to replace the item completely.”
One of the recommendation of the EAC is that the UK enshrines in law the right to repair – while also reducing VAT on repair services to make repairing an item more affordable and reduce the temptation to simply throw it out and buy something new.
Apple, however, told us that it was disappointed by the EAC’s findings:
“Apple is a leading global advocate for policies that combat climate change and environmental harm, including those that promote a transition to a circular economy. We practice what we preach, driving private sector innovation forward in areas from device durability and recycled materials to ambitious goals for a fully carbon neutral supply chain and device life cycle by 2030 and to one day end the use of mined and extracted materials altogether,” Apple told us in a statement.
“We were surprised and disappointed with the Environmental Audit Committee’s report, which does not reflect any of Apple’s efforts to conserve resources and protect the planet we all share. There are more options for customers to Trade in, recycle and get safe, quality repairs than ever before, and our latest Apple Watch, iPad, and iPhone lineup all use recycled material across key components. We will continue to work with Parliament and the Government to document Apple’s industry-leading commitments and to support our common effort to leave a clean economy and a healthy planet for the next generation.”
The AEC highlights “planned obsolescence” as a particular problem and asks for it to be banned by the Government, while also introducing labelling on a device’s lifespan, how long it will be updated for and for the producer to provide access to repair manuals.
Amazon also finds itself in the crosshairs, with the EAC saying: “…major online retailers and marketplaces such as Amazon have so far avoided playing their part in the circular economy by not collecting or recycling electronics in the way other organisations have to.”
New regulations coming in 2021 mean that large retailers will have to physically take back old items when a customer buys something new – regardless of where it was originally bought. This obligation doesn’t apply to online retailers, meaning there’s going to be a disparity and an unfair advantage to those selling online.
The AEC also recommends that online retailers are held accountable for the electronic sold through their platforms, with the same responsibilities whether sold online or through a physical store.
“Amazon is committed to minimising waste and helping our customers to reuse, repair, and recycle their products, and we provide a range of options that anyone can easily access through the Amazon Second Chance website,” an Amazon spokesperson told Pocket-lint.
“We have supported the recycling of more than 10,000 tonnes of electronic waste in the UK over the last decade. To address the root cause of eWaste, Amazon’s own devices are designed to last so that customers don’t have to upgrade every year, and we provide a range options such as Trade-In, Pre-Owned Devices, and recycling. Our latest generation of devices are made with more recycled materials than ever before, and we’re the first company to invest in renewable energy projects to address the energy used by our customers’ devices after purchase. We remain steadfast in meeting The Climate Pledge—our commitment to reach net zero carbon by 2040, and we will continue to work constructively with DEFRA and others on the role of online marketplaces and the circular economy, and the challenges of electronic waste.”
It’s now down to the UK Government to respond to the finding, with a summary of recommendations you can read up on here.
Corrections – [27/11/2020] Updated with a statement from Amazon.
Writing by Chris Hall.