Mad About . . .

Giveback January – Recycle or Donate Unwanted Electrical Goods

6th January 2021
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It seems appropriate for this first AD Break of the year to begin with a piece about recycling. And I’m also posting this the day after 12th Night (yesterday for the record) when new research has found that the UK alone has thrown away nearly 35m Christmas tree lights – enough to wind around every street in the country. Worse – around 1.7m lights are thrown away annually after only one use which I find extraordinary.

my collection of old electrical equipment to be recycled or donated

So, this year, I’m taking part in Give Back January which has been launched by the people at Recycle Your Electricals Campaign. Give Back January is encouraging us all to do something useful with the old and redundant electricals we might find ourselves with following Black Friday and Christmas.

Now when I was approached to do this before Christmas I thought to myself: well this will be tricky; I routinely send old phones back to be recycled and we don’t really have anything that’s broken. So I thought I would perhaps donate my hairdryer, which still works and is about 20 years old and treat myself to a new one. Which, I appreciate wasn’t quite in the spirit of the thing, but I had been asked to take a photograph of all my unwanted electricals and I was worried I didn’t have any.

Then I decided to clear out a cupboard in my office, now being done up for the 17yo, and there I discovered the box. The box that is full of old cables, and an obsolete playstation box and its controllers. And an unused speaker. And yet more cables. Never mind the bells Esmeralda it’s the bloody cables. The study found that there are 140m cables in homes across the UK – enough to go round the earth five times over. I think it’s possible that half of those were in my cupboard.

Laptops are another problem with an estimated 31m of them currently sitting in houses doing nothing. If they had been recycled 980,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions would have been saved which is the equivalent of taking 458,000 cars off the road which would make a significant contribution to the goal of zero carbon by 2050.

Staggering stats aren’t they?

It turns about that 75 per cent of the materials found in small electrical goods can be recycled – elements of gold, silver, aluminium and steel. To return to the laptops – if all the aluminium in those old laptops were recycled you could make 159,000 bikes. There would be enough steel for 12,000 playground swings and enough plastic for nearly five million defibrillators.

Scott Butler, Material Focus, Executive Director, said: “Our research found that 45 per cent of people across the UK are unaware that old electricals contain finite materials such as copper, gold, aluminium, steel and plastic. We know people want to do the right thing and recycle -it’s not a lack of good intentions, but rather the need for the right information and recycling facilities to do so.

“The Recycle Your Electricals campaign will make it easier to recycle by providing step-by-step information on how to reuse and recycle old electricals and more recycling facilities. We want everyone to know that all old electricals – that’s everything with a plug, battery or cable – can be recycled.”

So here’s what you need to do: Visit the website Recycle Your Electricals, (and I will be adding this to my Do Less Harm Directory too) stick in your postcode and have a good clear out. Some places will do doorstep collection which should come up when you enter your postcode.

There is advice there on how to donate items that are still working and how to recycle or get rid of those that are beyond the point of repair. If you’re getting rid of phones and laptops don’t forget to read the information on clearing personal data from them first.

If you want to get involved on Instagram then use these hashtags #RecycleYourElectricals #HiddenTreasures and #GiveBackJanuary and you can tag them @RecycleYourElectricals_  too which will help spread the word.

Now this clearing out is very motivating, I’m sure I’ve got an old electric toothbrush somewhere that can go. And I’ve definitely got a working juicer that can be donated. And I get to keep my fully functioning hairdryer too – wait for it to break 24 hours after I post this.

Material Focus is a not-for-profit organisation whose goal is to stop the nation throwing away or hoarding all their old small electricals. It has launched the new UK-wide Recycle Your Electricals campaign which reveals the hidden value and will make it easier for us all to recycle and reuse the small items we no longer need by providing more recycling points as well as giving practical information on how households can recycle.

The campaign is funded by producers of electrical appliances. The UK government sets annual targets for the recycling of all waste electricals, including small electricals. If producers of electrical appliances don’t meet this target, then they contribute towards a fund (WEEE Fund). During 2017 and 2018 £10.6 million was collected for the fund, which pays for a range of activities, including communications, behaviour change activities, increased recycling projects and research. Ultimately the aim is to support actions that will help the UK increase the levels of reuse and recycling of waste electricals.


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  • Caitriona 9th January 2021 at 8:58 am

    Hello, this is a great and timely article as schools have gone into lockdown and they are struggling to access laptops for children working remotely. Playstations and xboxes can also be used to access learning platforms like teams, google classroom etc. If you can spread the word and readers can donate unused items to their nearest school it will make a huge difference.

  • KittyT 8th January 2021 at 10:07 am

    I have just this week left a 30-year old stick blender (which gave up the ghost just after Christmas) and a non-functioning tumble dryer at our local Household Recycling Centre. I think I’ve got several miles of cabling and every phone charger we’ve ever owned – kept just in case…

  • Bonnie Foster Abel 6th January 2021 at 2:56 pm

    Great article Kate! It is timely, while putting away holiday decorations, to take out that box of cables, connectors and plugs I have sitting inside a closet out for recycling.

  • catherine webster 6th January 2021 at 8:43 am

    fabulous timing – I have just started clearing out the draws and boxes of cables and defunct things and am pleased they find another life! thanks Kate!

  • BlasR 6th January 2021 at 8:01 am

    I live in Buckinghamshire where our local council accepts batteries and small electrical items (small enough to go in a shoe box) with the household waste collections. You put the items in a bag and leave on the top of your dustbin. A brilliant service.

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