How to recycle electronics

05 September 2016 ( 05 June 2018 )

The UK is currently contributing around 1 million tonnes of e-waste every year - how can we reduce it?



When you’re due a new mobile phone, where does your old handset go? When the dishwasher has washed its last dish, what do you do with it?

In 2016, 44.7 million metric tonnes of e-waste were generated, globally, but just 20% of global e-waste was collected and recycled. At this rate, 2021 will see global e-waste increase to 52.2 million metric tonnes, with the UK contributing around 1 million tonnes of e-waste every year.

Unsurprisingly, these increasing levels of electronic waste, and the improper and unsafe treatment and disposal through open burning or in dumpsites, will pose significant risk to the environment and human health if left unchecked.

Electronic waste – or ‘e-waste’ – refers to all items of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) and its parts that have been discarded by its owner as waste without the intent of reuse. Types of electrical equipment that could end up as e-waste include mobile phones, computer screens, toasters and even washing machines; in fact, large household appliances account for most of the e-waste generated in the UK.

It is thought, in the UK, around 1 million tonnes of e-waste will be dumped every year – according to wiseuptowaste.org.uk. This waste will contain valuable metals, as well as plastics and other materials that can be recovered by recycling accurately and then used to make new products.

Cas Paton, managing director of OnRecycle, notes:

'One of the key hazards of e-waste is its electronic components, which often contain toxins, such as lead, cadmium and mercury. For this reason, e-waste must be handled with the utmost care. This includes an appropriate method of recycling, refurbishment or disposal.

Since most types of e-waste can be recycled effectively, it is not necessary to leave unwanted, electronic waste to gather dust in a dump. E-waste is dreadfully harmful to the environment and it prompts a very serious issue we must address.'

Concerned that the amount of e-waste generated is expected to increase substantially over the next few decades, OnRecycle.co.uk has put together some helpful information to help you manage your electrical appliances, whether you want to keep hold of them or recycle them.  


Electrical care

It is advised, to ensure electrical items last, to follow the set up and care guidelines provided by the manufacturer after purchase. It may seem obvious, but many people don’t pay detail to the information that comes with their products. It may be that you miss a trick in extending its life.

You can also register your item at registermyappliance to ensure the manufacturer can contact you if a free safety repair is ever needed. The website also contains advice on maintenance of key electrical items so that they are kept in good working order.

Make repairs

It’s unlikely the average joe has the skill to repair broken, advanced tech as it’s often a fiddly, technical minefield. But all is not lost.

Repair Cafes are springing up across the UK, encouraging everyday consumers, fed up of paying over the odds for tech repairs, to learn how to fix their own tech and extend its lifespan.

If you don't have a Repair Cafe in your area, check on Google to see if there are any similar local communities like this, accessible in your area. You never know, you may just be able to correct your broken tech with a helpful word and a guided hand.

How to recycle your electronic waste

Back up data

Firstly, remember to back up your data if you are intending to recycle a computer or mobile phone. It’s likely you will need the data for your new, replacement device anyway.

Further, make sure to wipe the old device clear so that no one can access your personal information. Instructions for doing so will vary from device to device, so refer to the instruction manual.

It is important to note that many electrical items will now store information about us, from smart TVs to sat navs, so take care of your personal data and do not overlook other, everyday items.

Personal documents and data disposal

Ask the retailer to recycle it

Some retailers will collect your unwanted electrical items when they deliver a new one, especially larger items like TVs and white goods, though this service may be at an extra cost. Do your research and compare alternative options/prices.

You can ask the retailer to take it back. Waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) is covered in EU law by the WEEE directive, which is designed to prevent people from dumping their electronics into landfill. When retailers sell you a new item they must, by law, take in the equivalent old model and dispose of it according to regulation. It therefore becomes their responsibly.

It is important to persist and to understand your rights, as a consumer. Before marching your old model back to its store of purchase, perhaps call the retailer and speak to an informed manager, directly. Ask about the WEEE directive and if they will cooperate, organise a good time to drop off your device.

How to keep your washing machine clean

Donate your electronics

If you have an electrical item that is still in good working condition, consider passing it on. Electrical items can be donated to some charity shops or furniture re-use organisations. Again, many will offer collection services. Some have added their details to the Recycling Locator.

Places like Great Ormond Street, for example, have previously accepted second-hand inkjet and toner cartridges. It is therefore, always worth investigating your local charity shops and centres. It is also worth checking to see if your council offers a service for re-use.

Likewise, ask family and friends if they would like or need your unwanted electricals!

Online sites such as Freecycle and Freegle offer you a platform to give-away your items for free. Alternately, search online for companies that will exchange old electrical items for cash or advertise your device on websites like eBay and Gumtree. There is also the option of selling locally at a car boot or at a local swapping event.

OnRecycle.co.uk compares all the major mobile phone recycling companies to make it easy for you to sell your mobile phone. 

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.