The public and waste electricals

Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE): Public Attitudes and Behaviours in the UK.

This report presents the findings of research into public attitudes and behaviours around recycling of waste electricals and electronics, especially small WEEE. A key aim was to identify options for removing barriers to recycling. The research was carried out by Ipsos MORI in 2018 and 2019.

Method

The research consisted of both qualitative and quantitative studies.

Qualitative – interviews and focus groups with 52 participants across a range of demographics in Bristol, Edinburgh, London and Manchester. These were conducted in December 2018. 

Quantitative – Online survey of more than 2,000 adults conducted in February 2019.

Key findings

  • People say they want to recycle more. Although more than two-thirds of people say they want to recycle more, many continue to put unwanted electricals in their rubbish bin – or hoard it. Lack of knowledge, inconvenience, and lack of understanding of how or where to recycle are key barriers cited.
  • Two key behaviours are identified: hoarding and binning. Hoarding is complex and nuanced, and requires further investigation. This was subsequently carried out by Real World Planning.
  • Some items are more commonly hoarded than binned eg. IT, smart devices including mobile phones, batteries. In addition to barriers cited above, data security is a key factor leading to people hoarding mobile phones and computers.
  • There is a knowledge gap – over 50% of people who bin their old electricals say this is because they didn’t know they should, or don’t know how to recycle their unwanted items in their local area. They are also confused about which items in their home count as electricals or electronics.
  • Making it easy is key. People actively want to know more about where and how to recycle. Convenient drop-off points were highlighted as key to getting people to recycle more WEEE; a priority should be making people aware of existing drop-off points, for example new retailer and community drop-off points.
  • There are differences between urban and rural areas. Recycling rates of electricals, and awareness of recycling options are lower in urban areas. Familiarity with the local recycling centre is significantly higher in rural areas. And car access is key. Most recycling centres require you to drive in, and without a car this is not an option for recyclers.
  • There are differences between demographic groups. Younger people (18-34) have the most room for improvement across awareness, understanding and actual recycling behaviours; this group in particular claim to want more information in order to recycle more. Older people and families tend to have more hoarded items. Whilst women are more likely to recycle in general, men claim higher levels of knowledge and more likely to say they recycle electricals. 
  • Motivation. As well as practical information, some people may need motivating – although this is hard to do without making it easy to recycle. The reasons to recycle people find most motivating relate to damaging the  environment. WEEE has a low profile compared to other recycling and people say they don’t know enough about the benefits of recycling WEEE and how these link to broader environmental values. 
  • The messenger. There is a clear expectation that information should come from local councils, but also a desire to hear from environmental organisations, government or retailers and manufacturers.

Find out about applying for funding.

Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment: Public Attitudes and Behaviours in the UK. Qualitative and quantitative findings

Ipsos MORI, January 2021.

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Cover for public attitudes to electrical recycling