Small electricals, big e-waste: consumers want easier ways to recycle batteries and small tech

Waste batteries and small tech devices have the lowest recycling rates. New research from Euroconsumers’ Altroconsumo finds out how to empower consumers, improve the WEEE market and keep things as circular and waste-free as possible.

WEEE have a battery and small tech waste problem

Everyone will be familiar with e-waste or ‘waste from electrical and electronic equipment’ (otherwise known by its acronym WEEE). It is the unwanted or broken computers, mobiles, lighting, TVs etc and batteries. 

It is one of the fastest growing waste streams in the EU as electronics get cheaper and easier to buy. But the waste from these products is not so easy to deal with. It contains hazardous materials which can harm the environment and expensive raw materials which are critical to new tech developments.

Managed properly, these can be extracted, reused and kept in the system much longer thus avoiding the need to further deplete natural resources. Left in landfill or at the back of a cupboards in someone’s home is a missed opportunity.


Every product that is not collected for reuse or de-polluted and recycled represents a wasted opportunity in terms of loss of natural resources and energy, and a decreasing supply of critical or valuable materials to feed into manufacturing”  

ECOSWEE Consumer Consultation Report December 2023

A new research report from the ECOSWEE project which stands for ‘Enhancing Collection of Small W/EEE and batteries’ has investigated how to improve consumer participation in e-waste take up schemes, particularly for smaller WEEE and batteries.

Small devices and batteries have the lowest recycling rates 

 The report comes as rules to collect, treat and reuse WEEE mark twenty years in the market. The regulations are part of a wider effort to increase circularity in the product system. The EU has not met its minimum collection target of 65%. Although at 48.5%, it is one of the highest collection rates of WEEE in the world, of which small WEEE including mobiles and batteries make up only 15%. 

Higher targets plus new regulations for batteries mean we need to raise the game on WEEE collection across the EU, particularly for small items and batteries. 

This requires engagement and effort from across the supply chain, and a specific focus on how to make it easy for consumers to play their part. The benefits are obvious – getting take-back schemes right will mean higher collection rates of waste, and more devices and material to reuse, repair and refurbish.

In the case of small devices and batteries, recycling is held back by limited information on how to correctly dispose of waste, and collection points are difficult to access.

Empower consumers, improve the post-waste market

As part of the drive to understand how to improve recycling and take-back rates, Euroconsumers’ member Altroconsumo surveyed just over 1,000 consumers in Italy to find out how to empower consumers to be part of a low waste system, and feed this back into EU level policy recommendations. The study aimed to understand:

  1. consumers’ disposal habits and whether these were influenced by the information available to them.
  2. what drives and, conversely, what blocks the collection of small WEEE and waste portable batteries.
  3. the current routes available to consumers who wanted to recycle this type of WEEE and what might work better.
  4. individuals’ perspectives on new collection methods and incentives to be tested in the future pilot programme.
  5. people’s preference for purchasing second-hand items over new ones.

What consumers need to make e-waste returns easy

Respondents aware of the eco-contribution to recycle e-waste were in the minority (44% of the sample). However, 86% of respondents said that if it was more clearly indicated they might change their disposal habits. This confirms there is still a huge opportunity to increase consumer awareness.

When consumers reported on their current experience we found:

  1. Although, 90% of people are aware that small electricals and batteries are not general or plastic waste, only half of respondents feel well or fully informed about the correct disposal method for small electricals (44%) and batteries (51%)
  2. Small household appliances like hair dryers or lamps (75%) and batteries (87%) are most likely to be disposed of correctly.
  3. Small hi-tech products like laptops and mobiles are kept at home by one third of the sample, as people feel they might still be useful as a spare, and fear that personal data would be exposed if they were to be let go.
  4. Electronic components and accessories are not disposed of properly by 38% of the respondents.
  5. Less than half of respondents feel well or fully informed about existing waste disposal methods, although there was a slightly higher awareness for batteries.
  6. Municipal collection centers and city-specific bins are the most recognized methods, while options for returning things to retailers were less well known.

In terms of incentives and encouragement to return e-waste we found:

  1. More physical collection points are popular (4 out of 5 respondents find them convenient), while other methods like postal services and parcel lockers are less favoured (57% and 52%, respectively). Given fewer people were aware of retail take-back schemes, this is a clear area to promote amongst consumers.
  2. Economic incentives could enhance collection, but it would depend on the value of the individual item. “For example, while €5 would incentivise just over half of smartphone owners to return their old device, it would be enough to motivate 2 out of 3 people to return USB flash drives (62%) or stylus batteries (65%).
  3. Deposit return schemes were not really appreciated by consumers due to them being challenging to implement. For example only 42% of respondents would be more willing to correctly dispose of a smartphone and the figure is even lower 30% for USB flash drives and stylus batteries.”
  4. Second-hand electrical products are not the preference for 48% of people, who say they never purchase them, followed by another 30% who only rarely buy them. The main driver for those who sometimes, often or always buy second-hand only is financial. Almost half (48%) say saving money is very important, compared to 25% who rank environmental reasons as very important

What’s next?  

There’s a clear opportunity for policy implementers to increase awareness, make collection points more prominent and use these findings to test out new schemes and incentives. 

Getting consumers aware and ready to return all types of e-waste as second nature will not just reduce waste but will boost the supply of materials available for building new products and innovations and growing the circular economy.   


This project is co-financed by the LIFE Programme 2021-2027 of the European Union for the Environment and Climate Action under Grant Agreement number 101104443 – LIFE22-PLP-BE-LIFE-ECOSWEEE. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Climate, Infrastructure and Environment Executive Agency (CINEA). Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.