5 November 2023
By Tom Collins
Households in Cork are being urged to clear out their homes of e-waste and to to pay attention to items which are usually overlooked.
A forgotten haul of 25million toys, vapes, cables, remote controls and USB sticks is lying in landfill sites, homes and sheds across Ireland, global data shows.
The huge collection of broken and unused items is contributing to a mountain of ‘invisible’ e-waste, according to the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR).
Its study shows consumers in Ireland generated 11 million kilos of small electronic waste in 2022 – the equivalent of 25million items containing precious and valuable metals which will be lost forever unless they enter Ireland’s recycling system.
Globally, these smaller e-waste items weigh 9 billion kilos and are estimated to contain almost $10 billion in recoverable, essential raw materials.
The figures were released as part of International E-Waste Day on Saturday, (Oct14) which urges consumers to begin a collective clearout of their homes and sheds.
A total of 9.2kg of e-waste was recycled per person in Cork last year – falling short of the national average of 10.03kg per person.
“People in Cork have contributed greatly to e-waste recycling every year, with 5,350 tonnes of electrical waste collected in the county in 2022, and we want to encourage that trend,” said Elizabeth O’Reilly, Head of Environmental Compliance & Membership at Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Ireland.
“Invisible e-waste often goes unnoticed due to its nature or appearance, leading us to overlook its recycling and re-use potential.
“We tend to know household electrical products as those we plug in and use regularly. But we don’t realise some battery-powered or wired-in products like a smoke detector or smart thermostat are electrical products because they don’t have a plug.
“For every 10 new small electrical products sold in Ireland last year, only four are eventually coming back through our approved e-waste recycling system when they reach end-of-life.”
Ms O’Reilly said consumers in Ireland had performed “exceptionally well” in recycling larger household items such as fridges and washing machines.
“We now need that great effort extended to these forgotten, smaller electronic items,” she said.
“Anything with a plug, battery or cable is free to recycle in local authority sites or participating electrical retailers, and the processing of all this takes place at our recycling partner, KMK Metals in Tullamore, Co Offaly.”
The international data, commissioned by Brussels-based waste collective WEEE Forum, of which WEEE Ireland is a member, shows small battery or rechargeable toys such as racing sets, electric trains, music toys, gaming and drones account for over a third of all invisible e-waste.
An estimated 7.3 billion of these are carelessly discarded in general waste every year.
The second biggest category of small e-waste is 5.5 billion household monitoring and control equipment such as alarms, followed by household tools such as drills, saws, high pressure cleaners and lawn mowers (over 4 billion).
The data also found that enough charging and power cables to circle the Earth 107 times and containing precious, easily recyclable copper, were discarded last year.
The volume of discarded vapes every year weigh as much as six Eiffel Towers. These devices contain lithium, considered by the European Commission a ‘strategic raw material’ crucial to the EU’s economy and green energy transition, but supplies are at risk.
You can find an interactive map of all free e-waste recycling points (Local Authority Recycling Centres and participating electrical retailers) at weeeireland.ie.
The full results of the research are at https://bit.ly/3PVFLnh