Time After Time e-waste report: insights from Gen Z

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Time After Time e-waste report: insights from Gen Z

By Alex Robinson 12th October, 2023

Gen Z gets a lot of stick for not living up to their values (as if young people should be held to a higher standard than the rest of us). But when it comes to the vast amounts of electronic waste our society creates, it turns out that Gen Z is readiest to adopt many responsible behaviours. They can’t do it all by themselves though: our new report identifies the four areas where they need support from business, policymakers and manufacturers.

Each year, a staggering 5.3 billion mobile phones are discarded globally, with the UK set to become the largest producer per capita of electrical waste by 2024. And yet, despite the vast amount of tech at our disposal, the UK has a deep digital divide: while ‘the average’ person has two unused phones at home, one in twenty UK households lack internet access.

We designed our first campaigns with Virgin Media O2 to find creative solutions to these two issues together: Community Calling and the Tech Lending Community both help to redistribute unused phones and tablets to people without digital access.

Today, we announce the launch of a new report with Virgin Media O2 investigating the awareness and behaviour of young people towards electrical waste, with a focus on mobile phones.

Gen Z is the most likely generation to take positive actions on electrical waste. In the last two years Gen Z were also most likely to get their phones fixed at a repair shop or café (46%), receive a second-hand phone from a family member or friend (44%) and have bought a refurbished phone (45%). However, our research also shows that 45% of young people have never recycled a phone, and 38% have disposed of theirs in general waste.

Young people are willing to take positive actions on electrical waste, but they need support to do so. Businesses, policymakers, and manufacturers need to work together to raise awareness and make it easier for young people to recycle and reuse electronic devices.

We’ve found four key areas to focus on:

  1. We all need to raise awareness and educate Gen Z about the issues, for example why it’s important to pass on old electricals and how they should be doing this.
  2. Businesses need to learn how to deliver authentic, demographic-appropriate communications.
  3. Manufacturers and digital service providers need to offer more support to Gen Z to take further action. We know that behaviours are motivated by ease and cost, so both of these factors need to be considered.
  4. Government and policymakers should pull a range of policy levers that could make a significant difference, such as stricter repairability requirements and tax changes on refurbished devices.

At Hubbub, we’re using these findings to drive impact through behaviour change campaigns. For example, our Time After Time student campaign is working with universities across the UK. This month we have a touring giant flip phone raising awareness of the impact of e-waste, and an electric cargo bike in Manchester making it easier for students to get their electrical waste collected. Our Time After Time e-waste fund has supported the Restart Project to host student-led repair cafes at various universities, and Groundwork East to engage students on the right thing to do with their disposable vapes.

Check out the full report here, and if you find our insights useful, feel free to forward this email to a friend or colleague. If you have suggestions for future research or want to discuss working together to tackle the e-waste problem, get in touch!

Does your workplace have old smartphones going spare?

We’ve teamed up with VMO2 and The National Databank to data-wipe, clean and rehome unused smartphones along with 6 months’ free data, minutes and texts, to get more people digitally connected and tackle e-waste.

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