Older generation leave young peers on scrap-heap over recycling

Older generation leave young peers on scrap-heap over recycling

Nearly a third of 18-24-year-olds discarded their broken devices or other small electrical items in general waste bins.

Younger Irish people are not as diligent than their older peers when it comes to recycling responsibly, a new report has found.

Despite younger, eco-conscious citizens sparking the global movement to finally tackle the climate crisis, Generation Z is not at the races compared to the so-called Boomer generation, WEEE Ireland research suggests

Young men and women are the worst at recycling small electrical items and hoard the most old batteries, according to WEEE Ireland’s findings.

Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Ireland is a non-profit organisation which encourages environmental management of products at their end of life.

Data from the organisation found that electrical sales in Ireland grew by 17% in 2020, but takeback of electronic waste through retailers is already down 10% for January and February this year.

Those figures mean a national takeback target of 65% of sales is a major challenge, WEEE Ireland said.

Chief executive Leo Donovan said it came as a surprise that younger people are falling behind other age groups on recycling end-of-life electrical goods.

Environmental activists such as Greta Thunberg strike a chord with the younger generation but this latest research shows the e-waste message is still not getting through to many in this cohort.

“We know that younger people are avid consumers of digital devices and early adopters of new technologies, but we are asking them to be more sustainable in how they manage waste electronics and batteries too.” 

The online survey of 1,000 adults, conducted by Empathy Research, showed that nearly a third of 18-24-year-olds discarded their broken devices or other small electrical items in general waste bins.

By entering general waste bins, they end up in landfill, never to be recycled, WEEE Ireland said.

Just 18% brought them to a recycling centre and 13% held onto them. In contrast, nearly half of over-55s brought the end-of-life electrical goods to recycling centres and just 7% dumped them in general waste.

Data across all age groups shows the preferred recycling method across Ireland is at local civic amenity centres (38%), followed by 20% who hand their goods back to the retailer, and 14% to an authorised e-waste collection event, WEEE Ireland said.

However, 15% of the population still put kettles, toasters, lamps, and other household items in general waste — the highest in the four years analysed.

“This means the valuable materials used in their production end up in landfill or incineration and can never be recovered for use again in the future,” said Mr Donovan.

WEEE Ireland warned last year that a "surge in sales of devices such as laptops, drones, power tools, and e-scooters" has seen demand soaring for cobalt and lithium.

Emissions from lithium production are set to triple by 2025 and grow by a factor of six by 2030, according to mineral consultants Roskill.

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