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1 November 2021

How to recycle electrical items

Whether you're getting rid of a broken toaster or a bulky washing machine, make sure you dispose of the product correctly
Tom Morgan

An estimated two million tonnes of electronics are discarded in the UK every year, so it's important we deal with e-waste correctly in a way that benefits the environment.

Thankfully, there are plenty of schemes around that aim to reduce the negative impact of e-waste. Whatever electrical product you're parting with, there's a good chance you'll be able to donate it, sell it on, or drop it off so it can be recycled and turned into something new.

Below, we run through the various ways you can recycle your unwanted electrical items. Plus, we have details on how to prepare your phone, tablet or PC if you're donating them.

See all our sustainable living advice - find out how you can reduce your impact on the environment across a range of areas

WEEE explained: can you recycle electronics?

Small electrical items that are broken (and can't be reused) are classed as WEEE – waste electrical and electronic equipment. WEEE covers a wide range of products, with the full list including small appliances such as kettles and toasters, plus bigger items including lawn mowers and vacuum cleaners.

The UK is one of the worst offenders when it comes to e-waste. According to a report by the Environmental Audit Committee, the country generated the second most e-waste per capita (23.9kg) in the world in 2019.

In simple terms, you can think of WEEE waste as most products that feature a plug or require a battery. The material composition of WEEE waste varies, so it's good to know exactly what you can and can't recycle.

Recycling a washing machine

According to RecycleNow, the government-funded national recycling campaign, waste electrical products collected at recycling centres are taken to processing plants where they are shredded into smaller pieces and separated into ferrous metals, non-ferrous metals and plastics.

Any electrical item that has a crossed-out wheelie bin symbol (shown below) can be recycled. Look out for this symbol when you're deciding what to do with your clutter.  If you know your item can be recycled but it's still in working condition, you might choose to donate it instead.

WEEE logo

Don't place your old electronic devices directly into a bin to be sent to landfill. Doing so means that the products may leak hazardous chemicals, contributing to water and air pollution.

When dealing with light bulbs, note that fluorescent lamps can be dealt with at a local recycling centre. However, older-style incandescent bulbs aren't recyclable and can be thrown away in your rubbish bin.

If you're planning on getting rid of your old TV and replacing it with a newer model, check our advice guide: Should you buy a second-hand TV?

How to get rid of dead batteries

Dead batteries don't belong in your bin – recycle them instead. Some councils will collect batteries as part of their own collection service, but if not, you can drop them off at a recycling centre.

Smaller batteries like those found inside a watch are recyclable, as are bulkier battery packs that power laptops and mobile phones.

Batteries

How to get rid of unwanted chargers and leads

Anything with a plug, battery or cable can be recycled, as well as a charging cable on its own. Cables can be valuable as they often contain copper and aluminum, which can be turned into new products. The plastic coating can also be reused.

If you've got a home office drawer packed with leads you don't use, consider bundling them together and dropping them at a recycling centre.

Box of cables

Five ways to get rid of your unwanted electronics

1. Kerbside collection

Some local authorities offer kerbside collection for small electrical items, so check in with your local council to see if this is the case where you live.

In many cases, the council will collect small household electricals such as toasters, torches and kettles, alongside household batteries. These small items need to be put in a carrier bag and placed next to your waste or recycling bin on collection day.

2. Drop items at a local recycling centre

If your local council isn't able to collect small electricals directly from your home, you can visit a recycling centre – there are thousands of them across the UK. Before you make the trip, check if you need to book a slot or take proof of address.

For an overview of nearby donation points, you can enter your postcode on the Recycle Your Electricals website.

3. Hand your items over to select retailers

Many retailers offer a paid-for pick-up scheme, where your old product is collected at the same time a new one is delivered, or a free drop-off scheme.

Retailers that manage their own recycling systems include:

  • Appliances Direct – for £20, the retailer will collect your large, old appliance at the same time you're having a replacement delivered. Appliances Direct can recycle washing machines, washer dryers, tumble dryers, dishwashers, fridge freezers, fridges, freezers, ovens and cookers.
  • Argos – the retailer offers two different schemes that deal with unwanted electricals. For any integrated appliance or cooker, Argos will install a new product and take away the old model to be recycled. Otherwise, you can recycle electronics in-store, as long as Argos sells a similar item and you have purchased a replacement item within the last 28 days.
  • Currys – when you purchase an electrical appliance from Currys, you can pay £15+ to have your old product taken away and recycled. Large appliances will need to be disconnected and unfixed from your units. Currys also offers free recycling in-store, accepting electricals that are bought directly from the retailer or any other shop. 
  • Ikea – the retailer will take your waste batteries free of charge. Head to the customer services area and hand them over.
  • Robert Dyas – through Robert Dyas, you can recycle your electrical item for free if you've purchased a replacement from the retailer. You need to make sure you bring the old item in within 28 days and have the receipt or order number for its replacement.
Currys

Perhaps you're donating an aging laptop so you can upgrade to a speedier alternative. If so, have a read through our guide on how to buy a second-hand or refurbished laptop.

4. Sell your electronical items for money

If you have tech products sat around gathering dust, note that you could make a tidy sum if you decide to sell them. In fact, our own pricing research shows you could receive as much as £450 for an Apple iPhone 12 (64GB) in working condition.

But a word of warning – if you're parting with an old phone, tablet or computer, it's important you remove your personal information from the product first. If you forget to do this (or do it incorrectly), your data could be visible to the next person that uses the device. In other words, someone else will have access to your pictures, videos, word documents and online accounts.

CeX

Once you've transferred over all the files you want to keep, perform a factory reset – this option can be found in the settings menu. Alternatively, try running a search on your device for 'factory reset.' If you're dealing with a phone, remember to remove the SIM card as well.

You can sell your devices using websites including CeX, Laptops Direct, Mazuma Mobile and musicMagpie. Music Magpie claims that it refurbishes 95% of the products it receives from consumers, all of which are resold in the UK.

To see how much money you could make from trading in your old device, check in with our expert guide: how to buy second-hand or refurbished mobile phone.

5. Donate to charity

Rather than sell your unused electronics, you can offer them to a local charity shop. Obviously, you'll want to ensure the products still work before you hand them over.

There are plenty of charity shops out there willing to take electricals of all shapes and sizes. The British Heart Foundation will take larger items such as TVs, washing machines and fridges. The Salvation Army accepts electrical items at its larger shops and donation centres. It has two specialist charity furniture shops in the UK (Luton and Glasgow) as well as 13 donation centres.

How to get rid of large electronics

If you're trying to hand over a particularly large item, your local district council should offer help in the form of a bulky waste collection service. This service will usually cover large appliances such as washing machines and fridges.

You should expect to pay a small fee to have your items removed from your home via bulky waste collection. For example, the City of London website notes there is a £35 charge for 'up to three items or ten standard bags.' It adds that 'collections made from specific ground-floor collection points on city estates are free of charge.'

To apply for special collection of large waste items, visit the GOV.UK website and enter your postcode to get started.

Recycling other materials

In total, there are 7 different types of plastic typically used around your home. Some of them are a breeze to deal with – all you need to do is pop them in your recycling bin and wait for collection day. Others are trickier, however, meaning you'll need to take those items to specialist drop-off points.

For a detailed overview of plastic that can and can't be recycled, consult our guide on how to recycle in the UK.