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23 Mar 2022

How to recycle your router

With millions of unused routers from the likes of Sky, BT and Virgin gathering dust in UK homes, we reveal how to go about recycling or selling your old device
BT Hub on a shelf

A recent Uswitch survey has shown that 42% of UK households have an unused router in storage. What's more, one in seven households has two or more old routers stashed away.

This accumulation takes place among a backdrop of confusion around how to get shot of old tech and how manufacturers can help us act sustainably. In the same survey, 60% of consumers believed that Internet service providers (ISPs) should do more to help the environment.

It's no surprise that so many households have old routers kicking about. For many, a contract with a new ISP or an upgrade will cause an old router to go out of use.

Many ISPs now lend routers to customers and expect them back when they're not in use anymore as a part of the contractual agreement, but for years many customers wouldn't have been expected to return their old routers.

But routers are WEEE (waste from electrical and electronic equipment) which cannot be disposed of in household waste. Luckily, broadband providers have schemes in place so they can reuse and recycle on your behalf.

Broadband is a vital part of our day-to-day lives, so getting the right plan matters. We've revealed the best and worst broadband providers for 2022.

How to recycle a Sky router

Sky hub

The Uswitch survey named Sky as the 'worst offender' when it came to telling consumers how to recycle their old equipment.

For customers joining since March 2020, Sky Broadband equipment is loaned to you and must be returned when it's no longer needed: when you upgrade or downgrade your subscription, move to a different broadband provider, or because your equipment is broken.

Owners of old Sky technology can find out how to return or recycle their products by visiting Sky's website.

This equipment can be returned via Collect+, Royal Mail, during an engineer visit, or by calling 03442 414141 if you live on the Channel Islands.

For other Sky equipment that you own, if your equipment can't be disposed of in general household waste, you can send it to Sky free of charge.

You can use this guide to find out how to return it using Collect+ or Royal Mail. If you live near a Sky Retail outlet, you can also return it there.

What happens to products you return to Sky?

Routers are essentially small computers and they have valuable components that can be removed and reused. Sky claims to reuse 'most parts of old products'.

For the parts that Sky doesn't reuse, it claims to recycle them to extract the useful materials for reuse.

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How to recycle a BT router

BT router

BT stores aren't accepting returns at the moment, so you'll have to go online to give back your old tech. BT equipment can also be returned and recycled free of charge. The steps are outlined on BT's website.

If you log into your BT account, you can request a free returns bag and put your old router - plus any accessories - into it and take it to your local Post Office.

Like Sky, newer customers of BT have their broadband equipment on loan only. Customers who joined or renewed their contract after 13 December 2019 will only be loaned their equipment and must return it or pay a penalty charge.

Charges for not returning loaned equipment varies. For a Smart Hub, you'll be paying £43, and for an upgraded Smart Hub 2 you'll be paying £50.

If you return your equipment after this charge, you'll be refunded the amount.

How to recycle a Virgin Media router

You can post your old kit back to Virgin and it will reuse and recycle it. Virgin has published guidance here.

If you're a Virgin Media customer who's received a new router, you can put your old router into the new one's package, pop on the label in the package, and post it back.

If you're leaving Virgin Media, it will send you a postal returns bag and a postage label to send back.

To post your Virgin Media tech back, you'll need to find a Collect+ store.

How to recycle a TalkTalk router

You can find out how to return your TalkTalk router here.

TalkTalk will send you a pre-paid postage bag when you leave its service or when you change your contract and are provided with new tech.

You can send it back via Royal Mail Parcel Collect, Hermes ParcelShop, and your local post office.

If you're already sitting on an old TalkTalk router, send it to the address on their website. But if you send back WEEE that isn't in a pre-paid bag then you'll pay for the shipping cost.

Other ways to recycle a router

You can dispose of electronic waste without a pre-paid postage bag, but you'll pick up the tab in transport costs.

The best thing to do is to take your router, along with other old tech you have lying around, to your local recycling centre.

Recycle Your Electricals has built an online tool to show you your nearest WEEE centre. You can also read our guide on how to recycle electrical items for some tips and alternatives.

There's also the possibility of finding a new use for your old tech. We've covered some ideas in our article, what to do with unused tech.

If you're buying a third-party router, don't be hasty to throw away your old ISP-provided router. You may still need it as a modem or for any proprietary cables, such as the ones Virgin Media uses.

Read our reviews of the best routers, mesh systems and wireless extenders to boost your home network.

Is my data at risk if I recycle a router?

Back of a router

Before you sell, give away or recycle your router, you should factory reset it. This is crucial to ensure your data is reasonably well protected from the router's next owner.

It can be easy to see your router as a simple gateway to the internet, but it's actually a computer that you're using every day and an information bottleneck that every internet-connected device in your home talks to.

Routers don't track users in the same way a computer or an internet browser does. But they do contain sensitive data, especially if you have enabled any sort of logging configuration to help you monitor traffic on your network, such as a child lock.

Manufacturers provide guidance on decommissioning your router, which you should follow. This will usually involve a sequence of steps.

Information stored on your router includes:

  • Admin passwords
  • Configuration files
  • IP addresses.
  • Parental control settings, including websites visited if this logging is enabled.

Can you get money for an old router?

There's a second-hand market for old routers, both ISP-provided and third-party ones from brands such as TP-Link and Asus.

But you should bear in mind that ISP routers aren't hard to get. Most people will get one on loan when they sign their contract.

Of the people looking for second-hand routers, there will be a better market for premium third-party routers you can't get for with a contract. This can come in handy if you want a router with a special feature like Wi-Fi 6 compatibility.

Websites like eBay, Gumtree, Preloved and Facebook all have marketplaces for this tech.

But routers can age into obsolescence,and you don't want a router that's so old that it's no longer provided with important updates.

Why it's important not to keep your router for too long

Woman using a laptop

Firmware updates are necessary to make sure that security vulnerabilities are patched. Without them, new or undiscovered exploits can be used to compromise your device.

If you're in the position of having an unsupported old router, you should talk to your ISP. We've heard from customers who have received a new router by explaining their concerns - but more often than not you'll find there's a charge involved.

If you're out of contract with your provider it could be the ideal time to haggle or switch. If you switch to a new provider, you should receive their latest equipment, saving you any additional fees and potentially, getting a better value connection. Our guide to the best broadband deals can give you an idea of how much you could save.

Find out if your router is putting your security at riskwith our in-depth guide.