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Is fast tech getting worse than fast fashion?

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The latest episode of For Tech’s Sake dives into the proverbial dump of electrical items and features an interview with Swappie Ireland’s new country manager.

Fast fashion has been discussed for quite some time now for its negative effects on the internet. It’s mass produced using cheap, low-quality materials, often using exploitative labour practices and encourages hyper-consumerism and a disposable mentality that increases the waste we add to our planet.

However, it’s important to consider all of these issues when we talk about fast tech – the kind of everyday small electrical items that we’re quick to buy and quick to throw away when they no longer work. Think about headphones, cables, mini fans and even single-use vapes.

A report from Material Focus in October 2023 highlighted the sheer volume of fast tech electrical items that are bought in the UK every year. It found that more than half a billion fast tech items were bought in the UK the previous year – that works out at 16 items every second.

In Ireland, the stats aren’t much better. In data released in February 2024 relating to years up to 2022, it found that 66,018 tonnes of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) were collected for treatment in Ireland in 2022, a decrease of 8pc from a record high of 71,811 tonnes in 2021.

While this sounds frightening, steps are being taken in the right direction. For one, the right to repair movement is continuing to gain momentum across Europe. In November, the European Parliament and Council voted in favour of a stronger right to repair, extending the legal guarantees on certain products and even letting customers request a repair for certain products – including smartphones – even after the guarantee has expired.

This new law was adopted in February of this year, and EU countries have two years to transpose the directive into national law once it has been adopted by the Council and Parliament and published in the EU Official Journal.

There has also been an increased demand for refurbished smartphones, which keeps older phones out of the dump, gives them a new lease of life and, over time, can reduce the number of new phones that will be added to the market and subsequently added to the scrap heap.

Recent data from IDC suggests that the worldwide market for second-hand smartphones expanded to 309m units and is expected to grow by almost 40pc to 430m units by 2027.

Additionally, a new survey from Vodafone suggests that more than one in three consumers in Ireland have purchased a refurbished device at least once, and more than two-thirds would consider buying one.

In the latest episode of For Tech’s Sake, hosts Jenny Darmody and Elaine Burke dive into the figures behind fast tech – including estimating how many elephants make up the level of e-waste in Ireland.

We also get into more detail about refurbished smartphones with Luísa Vasconcelos E Sousa, the new country manager of Swappie in Ireland. Swappie specialises in refurbishing iPhones and Sousa gave us an insight into how the process works and what customers can expect.

Check out the latest episode of the season and subscribe to For Tech’s Sake wherever you get your podcasts.

Find out how emerging tech trends are transforming tomorrow with our new podcast, Future Human: The Series. Listen now on Spotify, on Apple or wherever you get your podcasts.

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