Electronic goods, including computers and phones, are the world’s fastest growing rubbish problem. On average, British people throw away between 20 and 25kg of electronics a year.
Electronics can contain toxic materials including mercury, lead, zinc, nickel, barium, cadmium and chromium. If e-waste ends up in landfill, toxic chemicals can seep into the groundwater. If the rubbish is burned, it pollutes the atmosphere. People who lives near e-waste sites can suffer extreme health problems including cancers and damage to the immune and nervous systems.
Electronics are also full of valuable materials such as copper, silver, gold, tin and titanium, which can be recycled and re-used. So can the more common materials, like glass and plastic.
Start by decluttering
If you’re anything like us, you’ve got ageing electronic equipment stashed in drawers, boxes and cupboards around your home. Many of us are going to be spending a lot of time indoors for the foreseeable future and it’s a good time to take stock of our surroundings and deal with some of the jobs we’ve been putting off.
Decluttering is a great task to get done now, so you can enjoy a cleaner, more organised home in the near future, when you’ll appreciate it the most.
While you might not be able to get everything out of the door right away, you can have everything sorted, boxed up and ready to go. And that’s the difficult bit.
Start by locating all of your nests of electronic and electrical clutter and get everything together in one spot. This is a trick we borrowed from Marie Kondo. It’s a lot easier to make the decision to say goodbye to an old ethernet cable when you realise you have eight of them.
Make sure you have a plug point and an internet connection within reach. You want to be able to test all of your items so you know what works. You'll also want to look up items to see what they're worth.
Ideally, set up camp in front of the TV or where you can listen to a podcast while you sort things out. Having something to keep your mind at least partially occupied gives you the best chance of getting the job done. Decision fatigue is a real thing and it’s easy to get overwhelmed and think you’ll sort it out later. Then you’ll end up chucking everything back where you found it.
Find three bags or boxes and label them ‘Recycle’, ‘Donate’ and ‘Sell’.
Separate your stuff into like items. Match cords, cables and accessories with electronics. As you go through things, check for damage. Anything that’s broken can go straight into the recycling container.
If you think an item is worth selling, look it up online and see what you could get for it. If something is in good shape but it’s not worth your time selling, consider donating it. Below, we’ve got some options for new homes for all of your old electronics.
Your local recycling centre
Anything that’s damaged or hopelessly outmoded should go straight into your recycling box. As should all the stray cables and accessories that have become separated from their items. If it’s been in a box in the cupboard under the stairs for a year, there is really no need to keep it. If you suddenly find out, in six months’ time, what that little widget is for and decide that you can’t live without it after all, you’ll definitely another be able to order one online.
Visit www.recyclenow.com and enter your postcode. It’ll locate the nearest recycling centre for you. Your recycling centre will have a specific area marked out for ‘small electricals’. You can simply drop off your items there.
Your old phone
Because phones contain so many valuable materials, it’s better to get them to a specialist recycling location. If you can’t sell your old phone (see below) you can drop it off at almost any phone shop or pick up a free post envelope to get it to the right place.
Some local councils allow you to recycle batteries. If you visit recyclenow.com, you can enter your postcode and find out if your local council supports this service. If it does, you can put them in with your ordinary recycling.
It's also very likely that your local supermarket has a battery collection point. If not, batteries can also go to your local recycling centre.
If you’re in the US, here’s a really useful list of charities that accept old computers and electronic equipment.
If you’re in the UK, there are a number of charities that will take your old electronics and recycle them. Many offer a pick-up service – although you’ll have to be donating more than just an old phone. Specialist electronics recyclers will even accept broken items.
In the very unlikely event that you can't find a charity then once again, it’s time to visit your local recycling centre.
If your items still work, the British Heart Foundation accepts all kinds of electrical equipment. They’ll sell it in one of their furniture and electrical shops. They will take a huge number of electrical items, from lamps to fridges.
For safety reasons, there are some things they can’t accept. This list includes:
- Electric blankets and showers
- Sunbeds and tanning equipment
- Waste disposal units
- Power tools that no longer have an instruction manual
- Recalled appliances (some Beko fridges; some Whirlpool washing machines)
- Tumble dryers and washer dryers
- Gaming machines
When upgrading electronics, it’s always worth seeing what you could get for the item you just replaced. Usually, your phone provider will offer you a trade-in deal when you upgrade but they’ll also buy most phones and tablets regardless. O2, for example, will give you an online quote for your old phone and is currently offering price matching.
However, it’s a good idea to compare prices on a number of sites before you go for a trade-in deal. You can sell your phone, tablet or laptop to a company such as Music Magpie, which provides a price checker on its website.
At the moment, if I wanted to sell my old phone, Music Magpie is offering almost double what my network provider is (£90 versus £47).
The final option to get your old electronics of out the cupboard and back into use is to repurpose them.
Your old PC may be too slow for you to work or game on but it could still make a great dedicated Netflix and DVD player for your kids. Old iPods can be used as multimedia players and old webcams reused as security cameras. If you're electronically-minded, you can use electronic components on your own projects. Check out the Facebook page (and book) 62 Projects to Make with a Dead Computer for ideas.