How are electrical items recycled?
The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Regulations came into force in January 2007 and aim to reduce the amount of this waste going to landfill and improve recovery and recycling rates.
Around 1 million tonnes of electrical and electronic waste are generated every year.
So what items are included?
Items such as kitchen appliances, mobile phones, computers, TV's, electrical and electronic tools can all be either recycled or reused.
Did you know?
- On average, each person in the UK buys almost three new electrical items each year – or around 170 million nationally.
- For every 5.9kg of small electricals purchased in 2012 (the average amount per person), only a fraction of these items (1.8kg) were sent to be recycled.
- There's no need to bin items – you can drop them off at your local recycling centre. Enter your postcode into our Recycling Locator tool below to find your nearest recycling centre that accepts waste electricals.
- Recycling electricals is environmentally friendly – unwanted electricals and electronics can be re-used or recycled and contain really valuable raw materials. For example, one iron contains enough steel to produce 13 steel cans.
- Some retailers offer free recycling schemes or take back options. Ask your local retailer for more information.
How is it recycled?
Waste electrical and electronic equipment are collected at council recycling centres and at some retailers. It is then taken to a reprocessing plant where they are shredded into small pieces.
- strong magnets remove ferrous metals, such as steel
- other non-metallic metals are removed by using electronic currents.
Plastic is sorted into types by using various methods such as:
- near infrared light
- density separation.
But my item is still in working order!
Items that are still in working order can be re-used. National charities such as British Heart Foundation collect electrical items, as do some of the smaller local charities. They welcome electrical items that are suitable for re-sale, as they can generate precious funding for their charity.
Electrical items contain a range of materials that can be separated for recycling and used in new products, such as plastics and precious metals including gold and copper.
All this saves resources and energy.
If electrical items end up in landfill, hazardous substances will leak out and cause soil and water contamination – harming wildlife and even human health.
Problems and issues
A huge amount of electrical items are purchased each year and currently only a small proportion, particularly small items, are collected for recycling.
Many of us are not aware that items such as irons, toasters and mobile phones can be recycled. These items have a tendency to sit in a cupboard or drawer and gather dust, when in fact they could be put to better use. The biggest impact items we buy in the UK are televisions, washing machines, fridges and freezers, laptop computers and vacuum cleaners.
Facilities for recycling are improving and there are also charities and stores, such as the British Heart Foundation, who take useable, working items for re-use.
What waste electrical items can be turned into
Electrical items contain many different parts which, once recycled, can be used again in a variety of new applications. Below are examples of what some of the recycled parts may become:
Hover mowers contain:
- strong ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) plastic that can be used for light, rigid, moulded products such as musical instruments, cases, pipe fittings and car bumpers
- copper motors that can be turned into copper pipe, coins in some currencies, jewellery, wire, and as winding wire for motors in new electronic products such as fridges, vacuums, tools, toys and motors. Copper can be mixed with zinc to make brass, or with tin to make bronze.
Games consoles contain:
- steel that can be used for computer casings, car parts and beams
- circuit boards, which have a range of precious metals including gold, silver, platinum and palladium; platinum and palladium are used in catalytic convertors and mobile phones and jewellery.
Mobile phones contain:
- precious and semiprecious metals such as gold, platinum and palladium, a variety of which can be recycled into component plating and low voltage electrical contacts; palladium plays a key role in the technology used for fuel cells. Metal can be extracted from batteries too.
- zinc which is used to galvanise steel; it can also be mixed with copper to make brass. Ships and submarines use zinc blocks to stop rust forming.
- plastic which may be granulated and reformulated for use in mouldings.
- valuable components such as flash memory devices which can be recovered and downgraded.
- useful parts which can be re-used such as aerials, battery connectors, PCBs (printed circuit boards), connectors including gold-coated edge contacts on PCBs, ICs (integrated circuits), keyboards, LCD screens, lenses, microphones, phone housings, screws, SIM card assemblies and speakers.
Many manufacturers have signed up to the Basel Convention agreeing to cooperate with developing environmentally sound management to end-of-life mobile phones.
Where to recycle electrical items
Enter your postcode below to find your nearest recycling locations for electrical items.