What is e-waste and why is it a problem?
With the rapid progression of technology, individuals and businesses upgrade their devices frequently. Electronics are not usually designed to be sustainable, so replacing them results in millions of waste items. E-waste is not only harmful to the environment if it is not disposed of correctly, but it often contents important elements which can be re-used. E-waste is identified as any electronic device which has a plug or uses batteries and requires charging. It should not go into general waste streams because of their harmful components. Many electronics contain things like mercury, lead, arsenic, or flame retardants which would contaminate the ground, air, and water. They can also contain important non-renewable elements which we should be collecting and re-using to stop them from running out. Materials like plastics and metals are also commonly recyclable. The following items are all types of e-waste:
- remote controls
- games consoles
- digital alarm clocks
- computers, keyboards etc
- laptops, tablets etc
- fax machines
- mobile phones
- portable electronics (MP3 players, PDAs, smartwatches)
- VCR/DVD/CD players
- speakers, stereo equipment
- electric toothbrushes
- electric shavers
- electric chargers
- hairdryers, electric hair-styling equipment
- vacuum cleaners
- washing machines
- tumble dryers
- electric cookers
- food processors
- electronic toys
- smoke alarms
- sewing machines
- power tools
- sat nav devices
What can you do with old electronic devices?
If you own anything on the list above that you no longer want or need, then you might not know what to do with it. You have several options for how to handle old electronics, depending on the device and its condition. If the item is in good condition, then you could re-sell it to earn some cash or donate it to a charity who could re-sell it. You can usually sell or donate electronics if they are less than 5 years old and still functioning properly. It is easy to list any secondhand items for sale online on websites like Gumtree and eBay. Alternatively, you can search online for some charity shops in your area that accept donations. Some even offer collection services for donations. If your item is still relatively new but in need of repair, you should consider repairing it instead. It is usually cheaper than the cost of a replacement and does not contribute to waste. If it is very old or does not work anymore, you should recycle it.
How can you recycle electrical items in the UK?
Generally, the easiest way to get rid of old electronic devices responsibly is to return them to the retailer. Plenty of retailers will accept electronic devices whether you purchased them from there or not. You should be able to hand them in at a participating store location. Alternatively, if they are delivering a new electronic device to your home, you can ask a retailer to collect the old one and take it away. Sometimes these services are free and sometimes they will cost extra, but it still saves you time and hassle. Retailers who are offering a take-back scheme include:
If the retailer sells electronics, then they should also have a recycling scheme in place for them. This is according to the WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) Directive which came into effect in 2007. If the retailer cannot accept your electronics for recycling, then you can always take them to a recycling centre yourself. You could also contact your council to find out if the local authority offers a collection service for recycling electronics. Visit the Recycle Now website to locate your nearest recycling services and to learn more about recycling e-waste.
Should I worry about personal data on old electronics?
Sometimes people are aware that their old devices can be recycled instead of gathering dust in a drawer. The thing that holds them back, apart from sentimental value, is the fact that electronic devices often store a lot of personal data. Some people say that they are keeping the old device as a back-up or to sell it one day, but realistically that’s not the case. You would be better off and doing more for the environment if you turned it in for recycling. Before you do that, however, you should back up any personal data and then delete it from the device. Usually, a factory reset is sufficient to remove your information. It is important to do this so that nobody can use your data against your wishes, including for identity fraud. You can follow guidance from the Information Commissioner’s Office on how to delete personal data from electronic devices, or look for a specialist such as a reputable electronics retailer.