Leo Donovan, CEO of WEEE Ireland. Photo: Paul Moore

E-waste disposal trends revealed

By Maisie Mould

One in eight people in Cork dump small electrical items in household bins, new research shows. Surprisingly, this figure almost doubles among younger age groups, normally perceived as more environmentally conscious.

One in four people aged 18-24, and one in five aged 35-44 dispose of common household electrical items like smart watches, earbuds and Bluetooth speakers in general waste bins, despite environmental and public health risks posed.

Laptops, mobile phones, gaming devices, power tools and e-cigarettes are also thrown in with other waste, meaning they are neither reusable nor recyclable. Empathy Research conducted the survey on behalf of Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Ireland.

The proliferation of lithium battery powered products heightens dangers. In the past five years, WEEE Ireland reports a 100% increase in lithium battery powered small electricals coming back for recycling.

Cork has consistently played a significant role in Ireland's electrical waste recycling efforts. 5,350 tonnes of e-waste were collected in the county during 2022 alone, translating to a recycling rate of 9.21kg per person, below the national average of 10.33kg.

Leo Donovan, CEO of WEEE Ireland said: “For those that recycle their e-waste, our survey shows 75% do so due to its positive impact on the environment, with over 50% citing concerns over the hazardous components present in some of these devices.

“Despite this awareness, a significant number still opt to dispose of their waste electricals improperly, particularly when it involves smaller devices.”

He added: “Ireland’s impressive record for recycling larger household electrics needs to be matched when it comes to small electricals to ensure the safe and efficient recovery and reuse of materials they contain.

“Recycling these items is both free and straightforward, as they can be dropped off at numerous, authorised recycling centres and public collection days across Ireland.”

The Irish Waste Management Association (IWMA), who collect 95% of household waste in Ireland, highlighted the increased fire safety risks posed by lithium batteries in e-waste.

Conor Walsh, Secretary of the IWMA, explained: “If electronic waste containing batteries is placed in any of the household bins, it can become an ignition source for fires. That poses a risk to life as well as a threat of environmental pollution.”