Tech recycling 101: Everything you need to know

Do you care for the environment and want to make sure that the tech you use doesn't end up in a landfill? Read this article to know how to recycle your gadgets and other electronic instruments properly.

The world is changing at a rapid pace, with technology playing an ever-growing role. Today, it seems that our electronics have unlimited capabilities — not only can they seemingly do everything, but, thanks to modern recycling methods, they can also become anything. The process of recycling e-waste is so contemporary that it can almost be likened to alchemy through its innovative capabilities. Containing an abundance of precious metals and reusable components, our old devices can be transformed and reused, like magic — into jewellery, health care equipment or brand new devices.

However, of the vast amounts disposed of, only a tiny percentage of WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) is recycled properly — less than 20%, according to research. Despite the ecological disadvantages of doing so, the vast majority of e-waste goes directly to landfill sites alongside the valuable components within most devices.

Aiming to make this area of recycling less enigmatic, this article will address everything you need to know about disposing of technology.

Why you should recycle technology

As active consumers, it is instinctive to upgrade and re-purchase regularly to meet our technological needs. However, instead of smartly recycling our devices, Britons throw away 300,000 tonnes of electronics each year, including 95 tonnes of precious metals, according to the eco-group Material Focus. These components, from the copper wiring found in mobile phones to threads of silver in keyboard membranes, are not easily sourced. The process of extracting and processing minerals and other materials uses a lot of energy when sourcing components for new technology. However, when we recycle, we help cut down on this pollution by reducing the need for new products in the first place.

The 80% that isn't recycled? You guessed it — it ends up in the landfill. This is a serious issue, with waste management experts Bywaters noting that: "WEEE contains components or substances which can pose a serious threat to the environment, including ozone-depleting substances, asbestos, fluorescent tubes and nickel-cadmium batteries."

So, for the planet's sake, resist the urge to toss away an old device and recycle it instead.

What technology can (and can't) be recycled

Surprisingly, most tech can be recycled. This includes phones, keyboards, printers, and even things like toasters or fridges — essentially anything with a battery, plug or cable. Our discarded devices contain a plethora of precious metals and valuable materials that can be extracted, recycled and reused — perpetually. Take computers, for example. Once collected, every component, from circuit boards to external ceramics to glass computer screens, can be recycled or given a new lease of life. In fact, 98% of the average computer can be recycled overall!

So what can't be recycled? The answer is — not much! However, a small number of appliances can contain hazardous materials, so before you attempt to recycle anything in this field, be sure to check your tech. For example, a CRT monitor (that may be lurking in your loft somewhere) can contain high quantities of lead and is classified as an item of hazardous waste. Similarly, certain LCD screens can contain mercury and arsenic, which, if released after a screen is broken, could cause severe respiratory problems and lung diseases. This means that specific LCD screens are also classified as hazardous waste and should only be handled by specialist agencies. The same goes for older electronics that risk explosion, contain asbestos or have radioactive substances.

How to correctly recycle technology

"So, what next for my old iPhone 8? It's in average condition but very slow. What are my options?"
If your device is reusable, with or without minor repair, trading it in is a good option, as is donating to a charity. This method allows you to gain a little back for something costly or enjoy a feel-good factor from supporting a good cause. These days, charities wipe clean electronic devices and carry out repairs, so the future recipient enjoys a freshly upcycled device.

If for any reason this is not possible, recycle the device in question. Today, WEEE is recycled through state-of-the-art methods that include white goods (such as fridges) and other large electronics. If you have a safety concern about a device though, err on caution and consult an expert. For example, although the majority of technology can be recycled, older monitors can risk spillages of mercury, arsenic and lead if cracked or broken. However, there's nothing to worry about unless you were still using a Dell '95 until recently, most modern computers are made differently, such as from safer and thinner LCD screens.

To recycle your technology, you can contact an expert recycling company, or find your nearest drop off point. On a final note, don't forget to add accessories — chargers, cases, and headphones can all be recycled, sold or donated too.


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