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Britain's 'stockpile' of unused gadgets puts future of life-saving technologies at risk

Hannah Boland
Most people said they were keeping old gadgets in case they needed a spare - PA Wire

Britain risks running out of the material needed to make pacemakers and hearing aids, as they're trapped in tens of millions of unused gadgets 'stockpiled' in cupboards and drawers across the country. 

Rare elements such as tantalum, which helps power pacemakers, and yttrium, which can treat some cancers, are used to make smartphones, and are mined in countries including Australia, China and Brazil. 

Mindy Dulai, the senior policy advisor for the Royal Society of Chemistry, warned that a number of them were "finite", and could run out within the next 100 years.  

"We mine them and as they sit in our phones and devices, if we lock them away in cupboards  and attics then unfortunately we can't get back those precious elements," she told the Today programme.  

Other rare elements used in gadgets include indium, which is also needed for fire sprinkler systems, and silver, which makes antibacterial clothing. 

In a survey of more than 2,300 people for the Royal Society of Chemistry, 51pc of households said they were holding on to at least one unused electronic device, whilst 45pc said they had between two and five old gadgets in their drawers and cupboards. 

Most people said the reason they were keeping their old smart TVs, e-readers and phones was in case they needed a spare. Around 80pc said they had no plans to recycle or sell on the devices once they stopped using them. 

The Royal Society of Chemistry said it had commissioned the survey amid growing fears that the elements used to make things like smartphones would soon run out, potentially making it harder to create other products. 

Whilst some gadgets may become obsolete, and so the elements will no longer be needed for them, Ms Dulai said there could be more demand coming from newer technologies. 

She said: "We know the pace of technology is advancing rapidly, so say if we have these fantastic chips implanted in our brains, potentially they may need to use things like tantalum or gallium or indium as well."

The survey found that people aged between 16 and 24 were hoarding the most electronic devices at home, more than half of them owning 10 or more gadgets, while those aged between 55 and 75 years old had the fewest devices.

The society said this meant the problem "could be set to grow". Because of this, the society called for action from governments, manufacturers and retailers to make it easier for people to recycle their gadgets. 

"The UK has a tremendous opportunity to become a world leader in this and set an example for other nations to follow," it said.