Pile of electronic waste

The metals within

Anything that has a cable, plug or battery contains precious metals and can easily be recycled 

A tipper truck collects electrical waste

A 30-tonne tipper truck empties its load. Electrical devices – computers, battery-operated toy cars, printers – crash onto the concrete. An excavator scoops up the jungle of wires and smashed parts and dumps them onto a conveyor belt. The belt chucks slowly upwards and the electronic debris disappears into the factory behind.  

It feels almost apocalyptic – but it’s the opposite.  

For at SWEEEP KUUSAKOSKI in Kent, one of the UK’s biggest electrical recyclers, valuable materials will be extracted and reprocessed from all these busted gadgets. Because inside every single electrical item, from earbuds to games consoles, lawn mowers to toasters – there are precious metals such as gold, copper, platinum, lithium, and cobalt. All these materials, if recycled, can be used to make new devices such as laptops and phones, even life-saving medical equipment. 

A conveyor belt sorting electricals

By recycling broken and superseded electrical items, we reduce the need to mine raw materials from the Earth, which often causes negative environmental consequences including accelerating the Climate Emergency. According to independent not-for-profit organisation, Material Focus, if we all recycled all our old electricals, we would cut as much carbon dioxide as taking 1.3 million cars off the road.  

Electricals need specialist recycling, and in north London, they can be dropped to any of our network of eight reuse and recycling centres or on-street electric banks. You can also take them to any store that sells electrical and electronic devices – they are obliged by law to accept consumers’ old devices in-store for recycling.  You can find where to recycle across the UK via Recycle Your Electricals. 

However, many electricals are ending up in the wrong place – often chucked in bin-bag waste (case in point, one of our NLWA colleagues has found irons, hairdryers, toasters, even flat-screen TVs in the communal refuse bins she shares with 50 plus other homes).  

Your kerbside household recycling bin is not the right place either as these bins are solely for packaging that is recyclable. If you put electronics in your recycling bin, they could cause the recycling of a whole truck load to be rejected.  

What can you do? 

  • Keep your working devices for longer or give/sell to someone.  

  • Repair or buy refurbished devices. 

  • Never hoard broken or superseded devices as the metals inside are needed for new products. 

  • Never put even a wire or a memory stick in your bin bag waste or household recycling bin. 

  • Correctly recycle what you can’t repair, sell, or give away. To find out where you take your old devices for recycling, go to Recycle Your Electricals

Electrical parts ready to be recycled
17 October 2023