Electrical waste is a hot topic in January 2021

Editor’s blog: Never ending or beginning on an ever-spinning reel

Today is 24 January, and it is also global Circular Electronics Day.

This year, more than 20 tech suppliers, not-for-profits, and eco-focused groups have put their names behind the initiative which aims to inspire people and businesses to buy and manage their electronics in a circular way, thereby extending product lifespans and preventing toxic e-waste.

The day is in the calendar to remind individuals and organisations about why it is important to buy electricals that last, or that can be repaired when they go wrong, or that meet ecologically-conscious criteria when manufactured. Waste collection service ClearItWaste, for example, estimates British households generate 55kg of e-waste per year on average, and research by the group found 87% of Brits feel relevant governmental/environmental bodies need to better educate the public on what e-waste is and how it can adversely impact the environment.

When Green Retail World launched at the end of 2020, these were the sort of campaigns we wanted to get behind. We wanted to educate retailers about these issues and to encourage them to embed this type of thinking into their operations, if they are not already doing so.

Like a circle in a spiral

Indeed, through regulatory enforcement, the idea of a circular electronics economy is actually a very hot topic in January 2021. Although it’s gone a little under the radar due to an ongoing global pandemic and the biggest health crisis for generations, the start of this year heralded new rules for physical retailers selling at least £100,000 worth of electricals per annum.

These businesses are now obliged under the WEEE regulations to provide facilities for customers to bring back their used electricals.

They need to use their stores or alternative locations as collection hubs for no-longer-needed electrical items – and then follow appropriate routes for responsible disposal or recycling. Stricter governance of this type is coming for eCommerce players, in 2022.

We’ve already mentioned on these pages some of the services online retailer AO has in place to take back electricals, so it is only fair to highlight in this month of all months what others in the sector have in place.

Currys PC World says consumers can take any electricals or electronics they no longer want for free recycling. The retailer accepts everything from computers to toasters, and floor cleaners to TVs, whether they were purchased from Currys PC World or elsewhere, and people can drop off goods without buying anything new.

Prices start from £15 if online customers want the retailer to remove old electricals when delivering new goods to a home. And when shops are operating as normal, consumers can find dedicated bins in all Currys PC World stores for depositing AA or AAA batteries, or batteries used in computers, mobile phones and wrist watches.

It all makes a lot of sense, and it’s up to retailers to talk about these services more and the responsibility of everyone to start using them. Currys PC World says it collects, re-uses and recycles over 65,000 tonnes of waste electronics each year.

A wheel within a wheel

I’ve committed to highlighting three examples of greener retailing every time I write this monthly editor’s blog. The idea is to give my thoughts on what I’ve experienced on my travels, through my work writing about retail, or via my growing online shopping habit.

You can see loads more examples on the news pages of Green Retail World, so do check that out when you get a chance.

Right now, coronavirus-enforced lockdowns are making it much harder to get out and about, and my retail trips are being kept to an essential kind – but, nevertheless, I have picked up on some great initiatives.

If the Currys PC World one acts as my first example, then what about the other two?

Having bought my mother some wellies for her birthday to replace damaged ones, we got talking about responsible welly disposal. I found Hunter is running such a service, whereby people can take their old Hunter wellies to the brand’s store in Regent Street, or have them collected from home, in return for 15% off their next purchase.

London-based consumers signing up to the Hunter-affiliated First Mile RecycleBox operation even get their old boots picked up by electric vehicle, and the brand says it wants to extend electric-powered pick-ups across the UK in due course.

Each pair of recyled wellies is transported to Cheshire to be processed, shredded and transformed into playground surfacing, roads, kickboxing bag filler or other upcycled materials.

At this time of year when welly sales have gone through the roof – I couldn’t get big brand size 9 black or blue wellies for love nor money when I looked earlier in the month for another gift – this option for responsible disposal was very encouraging to see.

Meanwhile, H&M’s US sustainability manager, Abigail Kammerzell, was a panellist for this month’s National Retail Federation Big Show, which we covered on Green Retail World – and she reminded me that when its stores are open, H&M accepts bags of old clothes at the till point and either resells or recycles the items.

She said a circular economy is increasingly demanded by all generations.

“It’s up to businesses to have an answer for that and show a roadmap of how we’re going to become fully circular so our business can exist in an ethical way,” she explained, adding that H&M is “excited” to switch back on its in-store recycling services when shops are permitted to open again.

For a company putting so much product out into the world, it is crucial to keep broadcasting the message about how it also takes items back when they are no longer required by customers.

So, there you have it, another three greener retail examples for you to consider. If you’re a retailer or brand, these are the sort of services that can help make you greener; for consumers reading this, I’d encourage you to use them once shops reopen again and it is safe to do so.

It may be a month when electricals waste is the focus, but the initiatives I’ve highlighted from across the retail industry show the concept of circular economics in retail is not confined to one sector.

Happy #CircularElectronicsDay.

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Ben Sillitoe (@bsillitoe)

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