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How to Recycle E-waste


computer motherboardThe urgent need to improve the rate of recycling and to decrease the amount of electronic waste sent to landfills, led to the creation of the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) regulations in 2007. One million tonnes of electrical and electronic waste are accumulated annually – therefore, e-waste recycling is an important issue. Electrical and electronic tools, mobile phones, kitchen appliances, computers, and TV’s, can all be recycled or reused in some way. See how below.

Classification of WEEE

Depending on whether an item was on the market before or after 2005, the directive divides WEEE on historic – for items or equipment manufactured before that year, and non-historic for products manufactured after 2005. The owner of historic WEEE items has the responsibility to make provisions for its collection and recycling, while for non-historic the responsibility is held by the producer or distributor. To make the reporting process and classification easier, the directive divides WEEE into the following 10 categories:

    • Automatic dispensers
    • Consumer equipment
    • Electrical and electronic tools
    • IT and telecommunications equipment
    • Large household appliances
    • Lighting equipment
    • Medical devices
    • Monitoring and control instruments
    • Small household appliances
    • Toys, leisure and sports equipment

*In alphabetical order

How to Recycle Electronics

The process of recycling electronics is a bit different from what you may be used if you recycle other materials regularly. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it and it also doesn’t mean it’s going to be any difficult. Just different. Here’s how to recycle electronics:

  1. Return electronics to the manufacturer. Usually the best way to handle electronics recycling is to return it to manufacturer. In most cases, you can involve delivery by doing this, so you won’t have to bother with handling the process yourself. Simply check the return policies of the manufacturer and figure things out from there. They are usually pretty detailed, and if they’re not you can always contact them.
  2. Check out local electronics stores policies. If the manufacturer of your particular piece of tech doesn’t want its gadget back, you can check local stores near you. Oftentimes they will have different policies that involve accepting the return of electronics for recycling purposes.
  3. Donate what you can. If you’re buying a new piece of equipment, but the old one is still working and you don’t know what to do with it, you can try donating it. There are plenty of organisations like Computer Aid and Computers for Charities that accept donations of old electronics. Find the nearest one and you’re set.
  4. Bring old batteries to your retailer or supplier. Just like with electronics, most stores have a policy of accepting batteries for recycling.
  5. Check with your local recycling centre. Recycling centres accept most types of electronics, but it’s a good idea to contact them in advance, just to make sure.
  6. Bring the electronics to the recycling centre or deposit them in a recycling bank. You can bring all your old electronics to your local recycling centre, deposit them in a recycling bank, or simply leave them in a kerbside box. You need to make sure it’s clear what type of recycling material it is, though.

How Is It Recycled?

Local councils collect the electrical and electronic waste, which is then transported to a recycling facility. Before any recycling takes place, the electronic items are put through a ‘shredding line’ which cuts the components down into small fragments. These shredded pieces then enter separation lines where any non-metals are removed by electronic current. While, strong magnets take away any ferrous metals such as steel. This phase or ‘separation stage’ segregates materials into two categories: plastic and metal. They’re identified by way of near infra-red light sensors which distinguish between different materials based on the way they reflect light, and x-ray technology that determines density.

Learn more about the recycling process of waste electronics from the video below:

Did You Know?

  • On average, people in the UK buy three electrical appliances per year which adds up to about 170 million overall
  • A third of all the small electrical items bought in 2012 were sent for recycling
  • If one million mobile phones were recycled the materials recovered would include 550 pounds of silver, 50 pounds of pure gold, and 20 pounds of palladium
  • Less than 15% of electronic waste is disposed of and recycled properly

The Environmental Impact – Problems and Issues

If you were to open an electrical item you would find a lot of metal such as copper and gold, as well as plastic. These materials can be sent for recycling, and then used in the creation of new products and goods – this saves both energy and resources. Don’t forget, electrical components that end up in a landfill can cause soil and water pollution. While, hazardous substances can leak out and cause further contamination.

What Happens To All The E-waste?

Electrical appliances contain many parts, which after recycling can be used again for a wide range of purposes. Below you’ll find some examples:

Materials used in mobile phones:

– Metals like palladium, gold and platinum are all recyclable. Palladium can be used to create fuel cells, while gold and platinum are turned into low voltage power contacts and component plating
– Zinc is used to galvanise steel, and car and ship industries use it to prevent rust forming

Materials used in games consoles:

– The steel can be used for automotive parts and PC cases
– The motherboards contain precious metals like silver, gold, palladium, and platinum. The last two are used in jewellery, and the production of mobile phones

Take note that still functioning electrical items can also be reused. All charities and foundations, both national and local will gladly resell these products. You can also opt to pass on your electronics for free through websites, such as Freecycle and Freegle.


Q: What does the term “small electronics” refer to?

A: Items like mp3 players, cameras, phones, game consoles, tablets, and more.

Q: What measures do I have to take before recycling my phone?

A: Back up the information you want to keep and then delete all the data. For further help you can contact your phone manufacturer or carrier.

Q: Are hazardous materials found in computers?

A: Unfortunately yes. The majority of laptops on the market have a small lamp on the screen that sometimes contains mercury. In addition, laptops use lithium-ion rechargeable batteries. Motherboards can also contain mercury, cadmium, and lead.

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