Played out future: parents, post-Christmas clear-outs, electronic toy waste

Almost one-third of all ‘e-waste’ comes from battery and plug-in games, with little recognition of the problem.

According to the Whirli Report on toy waste in 2021, around 26% of toys bought at Christmas are already being neglected by the end of January, and 40% will be thrown out within the first three months of being unwrapped. Of that, the combined weight of electronic toys comes to 3.2billion kg, a significant proportion of the 9billion kgs of e-waste the world produces in the same timeframe. 

Data from the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) suggests e-toys contribute 77 times more to the e-waste problem than vapes, which are themselves a major scourge of pavements and kerbsides across the globe. Worryingly, experts believe this issue is still not being addressed in any serious way, with numbers even lacking on basic areas like how many e-toys are recycled, and the percentage that wind up on landfill.

The situation also has hidden complexities which are overlooked. For example, the ongoing failure to begin reducing the output of the plastics industry, and the short lifespan of cheap products. This has often been discussed in the context of fast fashion and clothing, but rarely in terms of entertainment devices beyond the smartphones, which also pose a major threat to our ability to deal with waste through minimising the impact of production and improving circular processes. 

‘Although the ongoing financial crisis dampened the usual toy sales surge in the run up to Christmas it doesn’t mean we can overlook the pressing issue of electronic waste that still looms over us,’ said Emma Armstrong, Sustainable Electronics Ambassador at sustainable electronics company In2tec. 

‘The landscape of toy purchases has been transformed by the rise of technology and looks set to continue to evolve. Tech such as headphones, gaming consoles, earphones, interactive toys, sound-playing books, drones, racing car sets, VR, electric trains, various robotic figures, and even low-cost gadgets that line the isles at Christmas are becoming staples for modern children,’ she continued. 

A major problem exists in perception, with one-third of UK parents admitting to disposing of toys with ’embedded electronics’ even though they were in working condition, as per a study by the Ellen Macartur Foundation. Meanwhile, research by the WEEE suggests up to $10billion in raw materials is waiting to be reclaimed from existing electronic products, casting this as both an environmental and economic problem. 

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