Half a billion ‘FastTech’ items thrown away each year, research shows

Energy & Efficiency, News
A discarded vape. Lumafield scans of electric items show the materials within them. Image: Recycle Your Electricals/Lumafield

Nearly half a billion FastTech electricals such as cables, lights, mini fans and disposable vapes, were thrown away last year, according to research from 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 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 including 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 behind the Recycle Your Electricals campaign commissioned and worked with visual tech company, 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’s scans of electric items showing the materials within them. Image: Recycle Your Electricals/Lumafield

Lumafield’s pioneering 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. 


Chris Price
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