Fasttech: A Glimpse At Better Alternatives
Lily Ruaah, 14 December 2023
According to Material Focus, the UK threw away nearly half a billion small ‘fast tech’ electricals in 2022—that’s approximately seven items per person.
The good news is that the amount of waste the UK in landfills has been consistently decreasing almost every year since 2010. In 2010, 12.9m tonnes of biodegradable municipal waste were sent to landfills. A decade later, in 2020, this figure had significantly reduced to 6.1m tonnes, showing a substantial improvement in waste management and reduction practices.
This year marked a notable milestone in fasttech spending, surpassing £2.8b annually for the first time. And with the rise of fasttech, we could see the amount of waste going to landfills increasing again. In this article, we decided to take a look at fasttech, and what alternatives there are out there.
What is fasttech?
Fasttech represents the dynamic, rapidly evolving landscape of technology, characterised by swift innovation and development. This field is marked by short product life cycles, where new technologies and improvements are continuously released, rapidly rendering older models obsolete.
Driven by high consumer demand, fasttech spans across various industries, significantly impacting business operations and consumer interactions with technology.
While it fuels economic growth and alters job markets, fasttech also presents challenges in terms of sustainability, given the increased electronic waste and environmental concerns it generates.
Why do we use fasttech items?
Fasttech electricals are usually much cheaper than their competitors. You can get a single-use vape for £6, or battery-powered fairy lights for £5 or less—whereas the longer-life versions of these can be seven times more expensive. And beyond the price, fasttech can be a quick, easy, and accessible option.
What’s the problem with fasttech?
Fasttech creates waste. The industry has emerged as the UK’s most rapidly expanding category of electronic waste, with a staggering 471m products discarded in the last year alone. Notably, 90% of these purchased items are swiftly thrown away. In fact, more fasttech items are thrown away than fast fashion.
It can also contribute to carbon emissions. A study conducted by Carbon Trust, an independent entity aiding businesses and governments in lowering carbon emissions, reveals that the typical carbon footprint of a smartphone is approximately 60kg of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent). That’s the same as driving a car for 155 miles or flying a plane for 31 miles (you might not get very far in a plane, but it’s a lot of carbon dioxide).
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Every year, Apple releases a new iPhone model—and while this innovation and constant improvement of their product makes companies like Apple and Samsung stand out in the market, it can lead to high numbers of discarded mobile phones.
So, how can we avoid this? The simple answer is to keep our phones for longer. According to RefurbMe, the average lifespan of a smartphone is two to three years. However, with battery replacement, if that’s possible with your phone, this can last a lot longer. There are also ways to improve your battery life by using less data, minimising the use of Bluetooth, and limiting your screen brightness.
There are also companies like Fairphone that have introduced a more sustainable smartphone option. The company promises performance until 2031, and offers a five-year warranty meaning you should be able to keep using your smartphone for at least five years.
Headphones or earphones with a cord are quickly becoming obsolete. 14% of adults bought cordless earphones last year, and 11.9m headphones or earphones with a cord were thrown away.
While there are some ‘eco-friendly’ options for earphones, the best way to be greener is to make sure you look after the earphones you do have. Apple allows you to track your AirPods through your phone, with Find My. This means even if you misplace them, you should be able to find them again.
In the run up to Christmas, we couldn’t not talk about decorative lights. Coloured lights can be a fun way to liven up a living space, or make things feel more festive, but they could be contributing to landfills once they’ve been used.
Avoid buying battery-powered lights. Lights, even small ones like fairy lights, need 0.006 kWh per hour, which might not sound like much, but two AA batteries would only power them for 18-24 hours. Plug-in fairy lights might not be as convenient, especially if you’re putting them around the Christmas tree, but they will last much longer. And you can put them away, and reuse them next year.
Single-use anything could be seen as wasteful, but single-use vapes have become extremely popular in the past five years. 260m disposable vapes were thrown away in 2022. In October 2023, Rishi Sunak said the government would help to curb the rise in youth vaping.
If you’re a vape user, now would be the time to invest in a rechargeable, non-disposable vape. It’s a good way to cut down on your landfill contribution. Although the initial payment is much higher, in the long run, you’re likely to save money as you won’t need to replace it.
Charging cables were the second most discarded item of 2022—with 26.3m disposed of. On average, UK adults bought 5.6 charging cables last year. A key reason for this trend is the lack of durability in many charging cables, leading to frequent replacements and, consequently, more waste.
An alternative to this would be to invest in a more expensive item that is less likely to break quickly. Look at reviews online, and see what people recommend. A few companies offer sustainable charging cables. Cable and Le Cord both offer charging cables made from recycled materials—that are built to last longer.
How to combat fasttech
Recycling and repurposing fashion items has become increasingly popular, with awareness of fast fashion growing. Now is the time to start recycling and repurposing your fasttech items.
Many of us have already started. The practice of recycling electricals is becoming increasingly common, with 60% of individuals reporting regular recycling habits, up from 52% in 2021. Also, since 2017, there has been a decline in the number of electrical items discarded annually, with a 34% reduction to 103 thousand tonnes (partly attributable to the lighter weight of these items). This is a great start, but there’s still plenty to be done.
Find where you can recycle electrical items near you.
You can also donate your unused items. 700,000 UK homes lack access to a digital device or the internet—so your old smartphone, or outdated laptop could make a great gift for someone without.
Fasttech isn’t going anywhere, well… fast. In fact, it’s probably here to stay. But that doesn’t mean we can’t ensure we’re using, and looking after our electronics in the best way possible. By investing in higher-quality products, thoughtfully recycling or donating old electronics, or even resisting the allure of the latest iPhone, we can make a substantial impact.
Recognising the importance of sustainable practices, we’ve introduced ESG signals. This tool is designed to help you discover companies committed to environmental, social, and governance excellence, aligning with your personal values. It’s about making informed choices, both in the products we use and the companies we support, to foster a more sustainable relationship with technology.