How a tech lending scheme will boost digital inclusion and reduce electronic waste

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How a tech lending scheme will boost digital inclusion and reduce electronic waste

By Alex Robinson 4th August, 2022

Today we’re announcing the charities that have won a share of £400,000 to run pioneering tech lending schemes providing refurbished tablets and data to people who need them.

Funding organisations supporting people who are digitally excluded

In partnership with Virgin Media O2, The Tech Lending Community Fund has made grants of between £55,000 and £83,000 to five organisations across the UK that will provide more than 1,000 tablets to people living in temporary accommodation and who are digitally excluded. These organisations provide crucial support to groups such as women seeking refuge from domestic violence, refugees, asylum seekers and people at risk of homelessness.

The tablets (and free data from Virgin Media O2 and Good Things Foundation’s National Databank) will help people improve their digital skills, access essential services such as healthcare appointments, apply for jobs and much more. The 5 recipients of the grants are Thames Reach, Kurdish and Middle Eastern Women’s Organisation, Willowacre Trust, Refuge and Leeds Refugee Forum. You can read more about them and the grant fund on our website here: 

Promoting digital inclusion and reducing e-waste

These lending schemes are focused on promoting digital inclusion, but by giving a second life to used tech they have another benefit: highlighting opportunities to reduce the growing mountain of e-waste through thoughtful repurposing of devices. It’s something we’ve been tackling with our Community Calling project (also alongside Virgin Media O2) that rehomes smartphones with people who need them. After all, where’s the sense in a society where 1.5m households don’t have access to the internet while 28 million unused smartphones lie gathering dust in our homes?

Inspiring creative solutions and making the most of resources

We hope that by demonstrating the social and environmental benefits of finding new homes for our tech, we can inspire creative solutions, more responsible behaviours and create a groundswell of support for stronger policy on repairs and electrical waste. It’s the fastest growing waste stream in the world, and less than 20% is currently collected and recycled. And it’s not junk: there’s so much precious metal in discarded electronics that The Royal Society of Chemistry proposed a global effort to mine that waste, rather than mining the Earth! Meanwhile, businesses in the UK are still throwing away, fly-tipping or illegally exporting more than double the amount of e-waste than they're correctly recycling. Better than recycling, of course, is repairing. A recent Microsoft study of various devices showed repairing instead of replacing offers around a 92% reduction in emissions and waste generation.

Connecting social and environmental issues

This is part of the context behind Virgin Media O2's Better Connections Plan, which includes a goal to help people carry out 10 million circular actions by the end of 2025 – from sustainably recycling devices to sending back old kit and donating unwanted smartphones and tablets to people who need them. One of the interesting things about this plan is that while ‘Circular Economy’ and ‘Connected Communities’ are two separate pillars, Virgin Media O2 is finding ways to act on them together, as the Tech Lending Community Fund demonstrates. It aligns with much of our recent work at Hubbub, where we’re more aware than ever that social and environmental issues often can’t be separated. From our Community Fridge Network and Food Connect, to urban greening and climate justice projects such as Grow Together, we’re reducing waste, improving our environment and building stronger, more connected communities.

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