Next to my daughter and the cat, some of the things I love most have plugs on the end of them. I find vacuuming soothing and I couldn’t go to an important meeting without getting out my hair straighteners. I love my digital radio and I need my kettle to make coffee in the morning. And you wouldn’t want to know me if I didn’t have access to coffee.
But even the most loved electrical appliance cannot live forever. And occasionally I might want to upgrade – a computer or a TV. So what do you do with an electrical appliance that doesn’t work any more or is superfluous to requirements?
I don’t want to just chuck it in the bin. Londoners alone throw away 180,000 tonnes of electrical items which could be donated to others or where components could be recycled. The UK creates 1.5 million tonnes of electrical waste a year. 75% ends up in landfill. Electrical goods can contaminate soil and water.
If it doesn’t work but you still love it
You can occasionally find electrical repair shops but they’re not as thick on the ground as they once were. Internet search and local business directories might help and there’s nothing better than word of mouth. In the past I’ve found repair shops by talking to local shops that sell electrical goods. Of course, if the item is not that old or still within its warranty, you should take it back to the shop where you bought it for replacement or repair.
It it doesn’t work and you don’t want it
A whole range of not for profit organisations will repair non-working items or cannibalise them for spares. These include the Enfys Foundation in Swansea, Doncaster Refurnish and national organisations such as Emmaus. A good place to start looking for a local organisation that will recycle electrical goods is the Recycled Products Guide. The guide is actually designed to help you track down recycled goods to buy, but it’s also a great way to find organisations willing to take old phones, computers, fridges, TVs… to repair and reuse. And you can search for local organisations using your post code.
Here’s a great little video from RecycleNow.com explaining how items get recycled – so incase you’re wondering how the different metals get sorted or the various types of plastic – this will show you.
It works, but you don’t want it
The British Heart Foundation will accept working electrical goods as part of an initiative launched this summer with Recycle Now. They also have specialist furniture and electrical stores. » British Heart Foundation furniture and electrical stores
Old mobile phones are a perfect example of still-working items that people often want to dispose of because they’ve opted for an upgrade.
The number of options here has increased enormously. There are even organisati0ns that will pay you for old phones, recondition them and sell them abroad. If you want to make sure a worthy cause benefits, check out » Shelter in the UK and, in the US, carbon offset project sponsor » TerraPass
There are also a number of schemes dedicated to recycling computers. It’s not just that your old computer may have a long and useful life elsewhere in the world, but remember they contain metals and other components that can damage the environment if not disposed of properly. Check with your manufacturer if they offer a pick up and recycle scheme. Dell, for example, do. » There are over 50 organisations in the UK refurbishing PCs for good causes
It doesn’t work and nobody else wants it
Before you consign it to the local rubbish tip, take a look at what you have in front of you…
- Is the plug removable? Take it off and keep it as a spare.
- Even if the plug is integrated with the lead, you should still be able to recycle the fuse, if it has one.
- Can drawers and shelves from old fridges and freezers be found a second life in the garage for storage?
- Does it have wood, screws, casters on the bottom… that could be used again?
- Let your imagination get up close and personal – I saw an old TV once that had been turned into a planter. It looked fab (wacky, but fab).
Think about the life-cycle of your plugged appliance before you buy
Ideally buy electrical goods from manufacturers who take recycling seriously and may even have a service to help you recycle at the end of a product’s life. There are a numbers of things that businesses can do.
In Europe there’s the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE Directive), which aims to reduce the amount of electrical and electronic equipment being produced and to encourage everyone to reuse, recycle and recover it. Importers, re-branders and manufacturers of new electrical or electronic equipment need to comply – but some seem to do this with more energy and imagination than others.
There’s no harm in checking out recycling policies before you buy. That’s what the internet was invented for. Some companies have made very public commitments to reducing, reusing and recycling. For example, Dyson will recycle your old vacuum cleaner for free when you buy a new Dyson from their online store. In the US, Sony Electronics instituted a nation-wide Take Back Recycling Program so consumers can recycle any Sony-branded product free of charge.