There are fears c-stores selling items such as electric toothbrushes do not realise they are covered by new laws governing the disposal of old electrical goods.

Under the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment regulations, all shopkeepers have a duty to take back electrical items from a customer if they are buying a replacement.

It is up to the retailer to ensure the old equipment is then disposed of in an environmentally friendly manner, though they can pay the local authority to handle this. Failure to comply can lead to prosecution.

"It's a nightmare trying to explain to proprietors of some smaller shops that this law applies as much to the sale of small items as it does to fridges," said a source at the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. "Many think they are exempt but they're not. There are probably a large number of convenience shops failing to comply."

A BRC spokesman said big stores now had schemes in place to comply with the rules, but added: "It would come as no surprise that there is a significant number of smaller stores out there who think that it doesn't affect them."

Research last December by law firm Eversheds found half of UK retailers were unaware of the implications of the WEEE rules.