Half a billion ‘FastTech’ items thrown away each year. 5 Tips to Declutter

A discarded vape. Lumafield’s scans of electric items show the materials within them. Image: Recycle Your Electricals/Lumafield

Nearly half a billion FastTech electricals were thrown away last year, according to environmental group Material Focus.

The research shows the UK’s consumption of small FastTech electricals is becoming an issue set to outstrip Fast Fashion, in terms of the amount of waste sent to landfill. FastTech refers to everyday small electrical items, from headphones to cables, decorative lights to mini fans and even single-use vapes.

These items often have a short lifespan and cost, on average, £4. This means they may be seen as ‘disposable’ (47% of us don’t expect cheaper electricals to last long), even when they’re not designed to be.

The in-depth study conducted by Material Focus as part of its Recycle Your Electricals campaign to mark International E-Waste Day (this Saturday 14th October) reveals 471m of these items end up in landfill every year. This includes 260 million disposable vapes, 26 million cables (enough to go round the earth five times), 29 million LEDs, solar and decorative lights, 9.8 million USB sticks, 4.8 million mini fans and more!  

Every year, the average UK adult buys nine FastTech items and throws away eight, buying FastTech for a wide range of reasons from replacing a broken item (39% of UK adults) or as a fun novelty (8%). It’s no surprise, therefore, that some of the most likely items to be binned include mini speakers, handheld vacuum cleaners and step counters. 

To highlight the vast amount of valuable materials that are hidden inside electrical items that are being thrown away, the not-for-profit organisation commissioned and worked with visual tech pioneer, Lumafield, on a series of  3-D CT scan images and video clips. The images show the surprising amount of valuable materials contained in small electricals, from copper to lithium to stainless steel.

Lumafield scans of electric items showing the materials within them. Image: Recycle Your Electricals / Lumafield

Lumafield’s Neptune industrial CT scanner captured hundreds of X-ray images of each product from different angles, and its Voyager software reconstructed these images into 3D visual models that reveal both external and internal details.

Says Scott Butler, Executive Director, Material Focus, which runs the Recycle Your Electricals campaign:

“FastTech is seriously rivalling Fast Fashion, and is causing similar headaches. People should think carefully about buying some of the more frivolous FastTech items in the first place. But as FastTech items are quite cheap and small, people may not realise that they contain valuable materials and will just pop them in the bin, meaning we lose everything inside them instead of recycling them into something new.

“We want to get the message across that anything with a plug, battery or cable can be recycled and there’s somewhere near you to do it. The scale of the issue is huge, but there’s an easy solution – just as the trend for recycling and repurposing fashion has grown and grown, we want to encourage the nation to recycle FastTech.”

International E-Waste Day (IEWD) 2023 takes place on 14th October. The day aims to engage individuals, retailers, local authorities, businesses and communities to participate in this year’s campaign by encouraging everyone to recycle their electricals. 

5 tips to declutter 

Get organised

To have a big clearout, get your rubbish bag, recycling bag, box for charity and box for any electrical recycling at the ready. You need somewhere to put things so you’re not tempted to just shove them back in the cupboard. If you are selling items on, be realistic as to how much time you have to get this done. You don’t want to end up storing bags and bags of resale belongings which you simply don’t have the time to sort, list and post.

Small wins are better than no wins!

It doesn’t matter how much you get through, as long as you follow a simple rule – only start an area you can complete. Work on it, complete it and then stop. If you leave an area unfinished at the end of the day, it can leave that defeated feeling and you may not want to begin again. The aim is to finish on a high – even tackling small areas can give you the biggest buzz.

Don’t let tech stop you in your tracks

Technology often makes people stop in their tracks when they’re having a clear out. Why don’t we want to get rid of it? Perhaps because it could still be useful or it cost a lot? See the potential if your old technology was donated or recycled. The alternative? It will sit in a box for the next ten years when it could be having a second life. Don’t forget to remove batteries from old electricals! These can be recycled separately. 

Don’t make ‘bin’ your decluttering default

You may be surprised that the majority of things you clear out can be reused or recycled. Do some research and check out Recycle Your Electricals  website – did you know even your old plugs and wires can be recycled? Clothes, shoes, books, wood, toys, ornaments, batteries, other small electricals – there is somewhere for all of it to go and you’re likely to have a drop-off point near you – just check out their Recycling Locator which has a whopping 16,000 places you can recycle your electricals. 

A simple snap can save a lot of space

Did you know a photograph of an object can spark the same memory as the actual object itself? This means you don’t always need to keep an item you are holding onto sentimentally! This is especially useful for bulky items you are only keeping because they have memories attached to them. Try taking a photograph and see how it makes you feel. It may help you let go and clear the space.

Says Vicky: “A lot of people don’t know you can recycle electricals – anything with a plug, battery or cable, but it’s made so easy by using the Recycle Your Electricals Recycling Locator

“The key is to get started and stop seeing your home as one giant task that you have an urgency to complete. Chipping away at your home is a great way to declutter, so start with something small like a drawer or a shelf, nothing more.

“People often get disheartened when they don’t initially get rid of as much as they’d have hoped to. Don’t worry if you feel like that. Letting things go can be a really emotional process. You can feel really attached to things sometimes, even if they’re just functional items with no sentimental attachment.

“Always revisit areas you have worked on days or weeks later and you’ll probably find you pick out additional items to go.”

Chris Price