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How to recycle and donate your old electronics

We think of old electrical items as more difficult to dispose of, meaning they can sit at the back of cupboards for years. But recycling them is easy
Nearly all devices powered by battery, mains or chargers can be recycled

Old electronics and gadgets can be some of the worst culprits for being left to sit in drawers and cupboards, with few obvious ways to dispose of them responsibly. And we are a nation unwilling to bin our unused mobile phones, laptops, tablets, and speakers.

If we throw them away with our general household waste, they pose a serious environmental risk. Electricals are made using a mix of often toxic materials such as lead, arsenic and mercury, which threaten wildlife and human health as well as the environment.

But there are ways to clear out the old gadgets taking up space in your home, and feel good about it too.

How much electronic waste is thrown away?

UK households throw away 155,000 tonnes of electronic goods per year, according to research by non-profit Material Focus. This amounts to 527 million out of use gadgets, or 20 per household.

Reusing and repurposing small electrical items would cut the country’s carbon emissions by 2.8 million tonnes, the report said, as good as taking 1.3 million cars off the road.

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Which electronics can be recycled and which can’t?

Nearly all battery or mains-powered products can be recycled. 

That includes laptops, printers, landline and mobile phones, mp3 players, electric toothbrushes and games consoles.

You can also recycle larger appliances like fridges, washing machines, microwaves, freezers and toasters, as well as DIY tools such as drills and sewing machines.

If it carries the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Drive (WEEE) logo – a crossed out wheelie bin – your item can be recycled.

How can I recycle old electronics?

Many local authorities offer household recycling collection for small electrical items, so contacting your council is a great place to start if you are trying to get rid of a device.

One of the reasons nearly all electronic devices can be recycled is because of the WEEE directive, requiring all retailers to help customers dispose of electricalss if they buy a new one – though some do charge – so get in touch with your retailer to find out more.

Your local recycling centre will accept your device and make sure it is recycled. Recycle Now has a helpful guide to where and how you can make sure your electronics are being disposed of responsibly.

How can I donate my electronics to charity?

If your unwanted electrical item is in good condition, it’s a great idea to give it away to someone who needs it. And there’s no shortage of organisations looking for donations.

It’s more important than ever with disadvantaged kids struggling to keep up with school work in lockdown due to a lack of devices. Almost two million children do not have access to a home computer for remote learning.

An interactive map built by tech do-gooders TechForUK details nearly 1,000 schools who need devices. It connects them with the organisations donating laptops and tablets so they can work together directly. Look to find out if a school near you is in need.

If you’re with Tesco Mobile as a customer, it might be most convenient to donate through their Reconnects partnership with homelessness charity Crisis. It converts the value of your device into cash which is then used to buy new phones and tablets for people who are supported by the charity.

Or if you’re with Vodafone, their Big British Tech Appeal is collecting electronics to donate to young people supported by Barnardos.

London children’s charity Little Lives is always looking for donations of old phones or tablets which are still in working condition, and you can do so for free.

Reset the device to factory settings, remove any cloud based-protection such as iCloud and package it safely. You can then print out a prepaid postage label and send it from your local post office.

Alternatively, recycle your device and raise cash for WaterAid to help some of the people hit hardest by poverty. Simply use their easy online system with Fonebank to sell your phone and donate all of its value to the charity (or donate a smaller per centage and receive the rest of the cash yourself).