Guide to Disposing of Electronic Devices – WEEE Recycling
Electronic devices are present in nearly every room of a modern home, from kitchen gadgets and large appliances to handheld devices, wearable technology and smart home systems. Also referred to as WEEE, electrical products are frequently disposed of and replaced with newer items, generating an estimated two million tonnes of waste in the UK every year.
What is WEEE Waste and what does WEEE stand for?
WEEE stands for Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment. Anything with a plug, battery or cable is classed as WEEE if you throw it away. In order to reduce the number of electronic items being sent to landfill, WEEE is regulated by the government and must be disposed of via WEEE recycling, in accordance with the correct guidelines.
The regulations apply to how manufacturers and retailers must behave regarding recycling electrical equipment and help make it easier for consumers to dispose of WEEE.
Can You Recycle Electronics?
Any broken electrical item with the crossed-out wheelie bin symbol on it can be recycled according to WEEE recycling guidelines. However, if the item is still working you might decide to donate it or sell it instead.
Don’t put electronic waste in your household bin, it will be sent to landfill and can leak hazardous chemicals. It’s important to reduce the amount of waste we send to landfill wherever possible; recycling electronics can help with this.
Recycling Dead Batteries
Dead batteries should not be thrown in the bin. All types of battery can be recycled, from tiny watch or hearing aid batteries, to larger power cells in laptops.
Getting Rid of Chargers and Cables
Let’s face it, every home has a drawer or box filled with old charging cables, usually for electronic items you no longer own, or cables that don’t seem to fit anything in the house! When it comes to clearing out that drawer, if you find cables you don’t use you can recycle them. Cables contain valuable copper and aluminium that can be recycled into new products. The plastic coating of electrical cables can also be reused.
What Electrical Items can Be Recycled?
Any item with a plug or battery can be recycled, let’s have a look in more detail at some of the items around your home that are recyclable.
Large appliances such as fridges, freezers, cookers, microwaves, dishwashers and washing machines can be recycled. Find out more about this in our guide to white goods and old furniture disposal.
Small Household Appliances
You can also recycle small household appliances, including irons, kettles, toasters, clocks and vacuum cleaners.
IT and Communication Equipment
Items like phones, printers, laptops and desktop computers can be recycled. IT and communication items are often collected by retailers when you buy a replacement. Laptop recycling and printer recycling helps to avoid sending bulky electronic items to landfill.
Audio and Audio Visual
TV recycling is really important, especially as technology advances and more and more people are replacing their old televisions. You can also recycle radios, stereo systems, DVD players, games consoles and cameras.
Personal Grooming Gadgets
Electric powered garden tools like lawnmowers and hedge trimmers can be recycled, along with other power tools like drills, saws and even sewing machines.
From shavers, electric toothbrushes and hairdryers to heated rollers, straighteners and foot spas, all electrical personal grooming gadgets can be recycled.
Ways to Reuse and Recycle
There are lots of ways to recycle electrical items, including ways of reusing items that are still in working condition. Before throwing away an item for recycling into its component parts, check if it could be reused elsewhere first.
Donate to Charity
Many charity shops are able to accept donated electronic items. They usually need to test items before they can sell them, so check they have the facilities to do this before dropping off a donation. Some charities like The British Heart Foundation and the Salvation Army have larger shops and donation centres that can also accept large electrical appliances.
If you donate your old electrical items to charity, you can help raise money for charity by giving someone else the opportunity to buy the items at a reasonable price.
If you have working electronic items that you no longer need, you might be able to make some money by selling them to someone else. From local social media selling groups, to car boot sales, auctions sites and trade-in centres, there are lots of places where you could get a decent price for good quality items.
Before selling or donating electronics like mobile phones, laptops and desktop computers make sure you transfer any important files or photos and remove any personal information first. You can also complete a factory reset with most devices, and remove sim cards from mobile phones and cellular tablets.
Return to Retailers
Some retailers offer to collect your old electrical items when they deliver a new one, sometimes this is a service you need to pay a small amount for and occasionally retailers will offer you an incentive to return an old product you are upgrading. Mobile phones for example can often be traded in for money off when buying a new one. The collection and take-back schemes are offered as part of the retailer’s obligation under the terms of the WEEE directive.
Drop off at The Tip
Your local household waste recycling centre (HWRC) will usually have facilities to recycle electrical items. Check with your local council to find out if you need to book a slot or register your vehicle to attend a HWRC.
Kerbside Collection / E-waste Recycler
Depending on where you live, your local authority may offer a kerbside collection service for small electrical goods and e-waste recycling, check with your local council to find out if the service is available in your area.
Which Parts Can be Recycled?
Electronic waste is broken down into different parts and materials during the recycling process, meaning that up to 80% of the materials used to make a mobile phone for example can be recycled. When recycling electronics, parts like batteries, exterior casing, circuit boards, and memory chips are separated and recycled individually to extract useful materials.
Items are shredded into smaller pieces and powerful magnets are used to remove metals that can be resold and reused in new products.
Hazardous Components in Electronics
Some types of electronics include hazardous materials or components, this is another reason why electrical equipment needs to be disposed of properly. Some examples of hazardous components in electronics include:
Fluids – Usually found in appliances used to heat or cool. All hazardous fluids must be removed from WEEE before any other recycling process can take place.
PCBs – Electronics made before 1972 may include capacitors that contain PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls). PCBs were banned in 1972 and have not been used in new electronics since 1986.
Mercury – Although banned (except for some uses) in 2006, mercury may be present in batteries and circuit boards of electrical equipment.
Toner Cartridges – Found in printers, photocopiers and fax machines, toner cartridges should be removed before disposing of electronics.
Lead, radioactive substances and refractory ceramic fibres (RCFs) – all of these materials can be extremely hazardous to human health, they have mostly been phased out and replaced by other materials. However, some older electrical items may still have these dangerous substances in their component parts.
The WEEE directive places an obligation on retailers to make it easy for consumers to recycle electrical equipment, giving us all the opportunity to reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill. Think before throwing away electrical items if they are still in working order, they might be useful to someone else, if not then they should be recycled.