Pioneering trial to recycle TV sets and kettles

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The Independent Online
Unwanted toasters, kettles, televisions and other domestic appliances will be recycled in an ambitious scheme starting today among 10,000 homes in West Sussex.

The 12-month trial in Worthing and Midhurst is the first of its kind in Europe, and will try to find out how much valuable material can be recovered from products that would normally be thrown on to waste tips.

If it proves profitable, the scheme could be extended to recycle materials from a number of areas. Industry estimates suggest 500,000 tons of electrical and electronic equipment are thrown away every year, equivalent to about 27 kilograms of waste from each household.

Unwanted appliances can contain valuable products, such as aluminium, gold and silver (in electrical contacts), iron and steel, as well as plastics that can be recycled for use in other products. The study, funded by the Industry Council for Electronic and Electrical Equipment Recycling (ICER), will investigate whether it is economic to recover them. Paper recycling projects, for example, have often proved unprofitable because of the varying cost of paper.

People in Worthing and Midhurst will be asked to take gadgets - "anything with a plug or battery" - to a disposal site. Refrigerators will be treated separately because they contain CFCs, which cannot be released into the atmosphere.

A weekly collection will take the remaining items to four recycling companies. The service will be free. "There is a similar scheme running in some German districts, but people have to pay for it," said Claire Snow, director of the industry body ICER which is sponsoring the trial. "That means people don't use the service as much as they could." The German scheme concentrates on retrieving gold and silver from the electrical contacts of television sets. ICER expects to collect about 250 tons of waste equipment during the trial.

"We are really trying to concentrate on the practical aspects," said Ms Snow. "Nobody has any idea how much useful stuff will really come out of the jumble of things you collect." ICER hopes to have preliminary results by the end of the year, including analysis of the comparative volumes collected of plastics, metals, rubber, glass and organic materials.

"The problem is that, compared to commercial waste, where there is a legal requirement for the producer to control its disposal, very little is known about domestic waste," said Ms Snow. "The Government recently emphasised the importance of recycling in this field, but it's a big challenge in any national recycling stream."

However, the Government has not contributed any money. The pounds 75,000 cost of the trial is being provided by by ICER's 41 member companies.