Electrical and electronic equipment recycling information sheet

*why bother? * what does the law say?
*how's, what's and where's of recycling electrical goods * useful contacts

Many everyday consumer items now contain electronic parts. Every year an estimated 1 million tonnes of waste electronic and electrical equipment (WEEE) are discarded by householders and commercial groups in the UK. Dealing with this waste is an important issue as electronic goods are becoming increasingly short lived, and so ever increasing quantities of obsolete and broken equipment are thrown away. Electronic and electrical equipment makes up on average 4% of European municipal waste, and is growing three times faster than any other municipal waste stream.

Electrical waste includes digital watches, fridges, TVs, computers and toys. Not only is this waste stream disparate in function but in addition the materials of which they are comprised vary considerably. For example an average TV contains 6% metal and 50% glass whereas a cooker is 89% metal and only 6% glass. Other materials used include plastics, ceramics and precious metals. The complex array of product types and materials make waste electrical and electronic equipment difficult to manage.

The main component of waste electronic equipment is large household appliances known as white goods, which make up 43% of the total. The next largest component is IT equipment which accounts for 39%. Much of this is made up of computers, which rapidly become obsolete. Televisions also represent a large proportion, with an estimated 2 million TV sets being discarded each year.

current tonnages of WEEE collected and recycled in the UK




% recycled





video / sound








large household appliances




source: ICER 2000

Why bother?

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The disposal of electronic and electrical appliances in landfill sites or through incineration creates a number of environmental problems.

Loss of resources

When obsolete materials are not recycled, raw materials have to be processed to make new products. This represents a significant loss of resources as the energy, transport and environmental damage caused by these processes is large.

In 1998 it was estimated that of the 6 million tonnes of electrical equipment waste arising in Europe the potential loss of resources was

This was in addition to the loss of heavy metals, lead, mercury, flame retardants and more. The production of these raw materials and the goods made from them entails environmental damage through mining, transport, water and energy use. For example, according to a recent UN study, the manufacture of a new computer and monitor uses 240kg of fossil fuels, 22kg of chemicals and 1500 litres of water. Similar quantities of materials are used in the manufacture of an average car. The nature of many of these materials is such that they can be recycled with relative ease preventing the waste associated with producing new raw materials.

Damage to the environment and health caused by hazardous materials

Another major problem is the toxic nature of many of the substances, including arsenic, bromine, cadmium, halogenated flame retardant, hydro chlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), lead, mercury and PCBs.

The estimated number of fridges and freezers being disposed in the UK is 3 million units annually. These units contain gases such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) used for the coolant and insulation. Both CFCs and HCFCs are greenhouse gases which when emitted into the atmosphere, contribute to climate change.

Fluorescent lighting contains potentially harmful substances such as highly toxic heavy metals, in particular mercury, cadmium and lead. If they enter the body, these substances can cause damage to the liver, kidneys and the brain. Mercury is also a neurotoxin and has the potential to build up in the food chain. The mercury content is the main concern with fluorescent lighting. A four-foot long fluorescent tube may contain over 30 milligrams of mercury. The EC permissible limit for mercury in drinking water is 1 part per billion, equivalent to 0.001mg a litre.

According to a survey by consultancy ERA Technology, electrical equipment manufacturers are reacting "very slowly" to a legal requirement to remove lead from their products by July 2006, almost 2/3 of companies have no planned date for completing the switch to lead-free technologies.

Finding suitable landfill sites is also becoming an increasing problem, particularly in the South East, where large quantities of electronic waste arise. New rules in force from July 2004 call for the cessation of co-disposal of hazardous and non-hazardous wastes. In the South and South East of England there are currently no landfill sites able to accept hazardous waste.

How's, what's and where's of recycling electrical goods

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Reuse schemes and extending product life

Even though a piece of equipment has reached the end of its life in one situation, this does not mean that it is no longer useable. About 25% of discarded appliances are intended for reuse, being donated or sold. In addition to traditional second hand outlets, there are a number of schemes looking at ways of passing on electronic equipment no longer required by commercial organisations to other users. By this means, the life of products can be extended - a more environmentally desirable option than recycling.

Computers and IT Equipment

Since 1996 the market for refurbished computers has increased by 500%, but still less than 20% of all discarded UK computers are recycled. There are commercial organisations that buy and sell business computer systems, either as complete systems, or for refurbishment, or as spares for maintenance purposes. Hewlett Packard offers a take-back service for any make of computer for companies. The type and cost of the service depends on the quantity, type of products returned and the location from where they are picked up. The cost is covered by the customer.

Sales of PCs reached 1.8 million in the second quarter of this year

Two million working Pentium PCs end up in landfill sites in the UK every year


There are also a number of community computer reuse projects in the UK which facilitate the movement of redundant computers from businesses to the community, by addressing the barriers such as legal liability, data protection, and logistics. Computers are typically donated to schools, charities and households or for export to developing countries. If your computer is not of a standard accepted for reuse, refurbishers may take it to reuse the parts. For details of where you can send your computer please see our listing of computer recyclers or call the Wasteline.

Upgrading a particular appliance can also extend the life span of electronic equipment, if the design allows. It is quite standard practice to fit larger hard disks or additional memory to computers. Computer manufacturers now design products that can be easily upgraded, enabling many of the original parts to be retained virtually indefinitely, or at least until they are beyond repair.

Mobile phones

The rechargeable battery and other components such as the LCD display have toxic components. Research suggests that there are over 20 million potentially toxic redundant mobile phones in the UK, making up 1-2% of electronic waste, but recycling systems have been slow to catch on because people are reluctant to part with their old phones, believing they may still be worth something. The main channels for disposing of mobiles are the shops that sell them. Fonebak was launched within these stores and collects and donates monies to charities. Many manufacturers have signed up to the Basel Convention agreeing to cooperate with developing environmentally sound management to end-of-life mobile phones.

Action Aid, Oxfam and others (see contacts) collect unwanted mobile phones. The phones are refurbished if possible and sold to eastern European and African countries where the latest technology is not important and where landline infrastructure is poor.

A scheme to reuse mobile phones as personal safety alarms is being promoted by Victim Support Southwark in association with Southwark Borough Council and with the support of T-Mobile. The fones4safety scheme takes old mobiles, reconfigures them to provide one-touch dialling to a 999 operator and distributes them to victims of violent crime.

Printer cartridges

In 2003, 30-40% of the 40 million inkjet and toner cartridges sold in the UK were remanufactured or recycled, with 12-14,000 tonnes ending up in landfill. Refilling ink jet cartridges is straightforward and can be done on a DIY basis, with a number of companies supplying the ink and refilling equipment. In addition it is also possible to send cartridges away for refilling or to buy refilled cartridges. Many charities and individuals raise money through the collection of used printer cartridges for refilling and resale although increasingly the introduction of smart "killer" chips is hampering this process.

Toner cartridges cannot be refilled, but most types of toner cartridge can be remanufactured. The cartridges are sent to a factory where they are completely dismantled and cleaned, any worn parts are replaced, and the drum either re-coated or replaced. They are then refilled with fresh toner, tested and sold with a guarantee.

White goods

A number of fridge recyclers now operate in the UK to dispose safely of fridges that can no longer be used. Two and a half million domestic and about 500,000 commercial fridges are replaced in the UK every year. Studies have found the average lifespan of a fridge to be 11 years. There are over 300 furniture recycling projects across the UK. Furniture projects often need working cookers and fridges, as well as other household items such as vacuum cleaners, to pass on to low-income families for reuse. SOFA, a furniture and electrical appliance reuse charity based in Bristol, helps over 5,000 low-income households a year.

Recycling / recovery

For large household white goods, such as fridges and cookers, recycling infrastructure is strong. However, for smaller more complicated equipment, the development of new infrastructure and technology has become necessary. There are four broad methods employed by industry to recycle

Fluorescent tubes and cathode ray tubes (CRTs)

These are made from leaded glass and in addition contain other hazardous materials such as mercury and phosphorus in fluorescent tubes and barium in CRTs.

Some 100 million lighting tubes (about 20,000 tonnes) and 100,000 tonnes of CRT glass are scrapped each year in the UK. Currently these are usually shredded and dumped in landfill sites.

The number of fluorescent tube recyclers in the UK is slowly growing. Mercury Recycling Ltd, based in Manchester, and Lampcare (UK) Recycling Ltd, based in Glasgow, are two companies in the UK with the technology to recycle fluorescent tubes, and are currently taking spent tubes supplied by waste management companies. Sustainalite, part of the Lighting Industry Federation Ltd, aims to promote best practice in the management and resource use of end-of-life gas discharge light sources and to establish and manage an accreditation scheme for those who manage end-of-life gas discharge light sources.

WRAP (the Waste & Resources Action Programme) has produced a first report that aims to identify potential markets for waste CRT glass and to assess the economic and technical barriers to all applications, particularly higher value applications. It will also develop the necessary standards and processes for viable, commercial scale recycling of CRTs.

Collection of household WEEE

At present there are still few places that will accept household electrical equipment for reuse and/or recycling. Under investigation are methods for retailer takeback schemes, kerbside collections and separate storage at civic amenity sites

Three companies involved in wastes management are planning a national scheme for the take-back and recycling of waste electrical and electronic appliances under the name Transform. Biffa will collect from businesses, civic amenity sites and retailers, European Metal Recycling will carry out treatment and recycling of appliances, and Endeva will provide consumer take-back and refurbishment services.

Many not-for-profit organisations have been established to refurbish white goods and computers, providing employment and training as well as passing on these items to schools and other charities at a reduced cost (see contacts for further details).

If you are a householder your waste collection authority (district, borough or unitary council) is obliged to provide a collection service for bulky items like fridges, although they can charge a collection fee. Alternatively, you can take your appliance to your local civic amenity site for disposal free of charge. The staff will ensure that your old appliance is disposed of safely.

What does the law say?

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For further information please see our legislation information sheet.

On 13 February 2003, the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE Directive) and a second piece of legislation, the Directive on the Restriction of the Use of Certain Hazardous Substances in Electrical and Electronic Equipment (RoHS) were printed in the EU official journal, and hence came into force in the EU. Member states will have to have incorporated the legislation into their own statute books by 13th August 2004.

The two pieces of legislation will have a profound effect on how we view and treat waste electronics. The WEEE Directive continues the theme of producer responsibility running through recent waste based European legislation. The premise is that those who produce goods should also be held accountable for their disposal. This in essence means that companies manufacturing and importing electrical products are going to be legally and financially responsible for meeting the targets set in the legislation.

The key dates of the Directive are as follows

  1. By June 2006, local authorities must have set up collection or take back schemes which allow users to return their waste products free of charge. Producers need to have financed these collection and disposal routes.
  2. By 31 December 2006, the UK will have to be collecting 4kg of electronic waste per person per year, and meeting several specific recovery and recycling targets .

However - after several delays, it appears that Producer Responsibility part of the directive will not be introduced in time. There has even been a suggestion that it may be as late as early 2008. The DTI (Department of Trade and Industry) is still in consultation with stakeholders, and has yet to make a definite announcement about start dates.

Legislation affecting refrigeration unit disposal

European Council Regulation no. 2037/2000 on substances that deplete the ozone layer (ODS), which came into effect on 1 October 2000, requires the removal of controlled ODS from refrigeration equipment before such appliances are scrapped. This requirement came into force immediately for industrial and commercial appliances and applied to UK domestic appliances from the 1 January 2002. This applies to ODS in the insulating foam inside the fridge as well as to the refrigerant in the cooling system. Your local council is responsible for the safe disposal of household refrigeration equipment.


What you can do

When buying new electronic or electrical items, choose ones which are durable, and which can be upgraded in the future if possible. Consider first if a current item of equipment can be upgraded, rather than being completely replaced.

Useful contacts

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ICER (Industry Council for Electronic Equipment Recycling)
6 Bath Place, Rivington Street, London, EC2A 3JE.
t 020 7729 4766
Working to develop long-term strategies to manage and minimise waste from electronic and electrical equipment. Holds Directory of commercial recyclers, and information on WEEE policy.

Computer reuse/refurbishment schemes
see our Computer Recyclers in the UK factsheet

Light recycling

Balcan Engineering Ltd
Woodhall Spa
Lincolnshire LN10 6RW
01526 353 075
Manufacturers of lamp crushers providing an on-site lamp crushing and disposal service, and information about lamp disposal

D C Disposable Lighting
1 Mr. Darren Coleman
54 Victoria Avenue
Grays, Essex,
RM16 2RP
t 01375 371 631 f 01375 371 631
Working in the South East of England, in conjunction with Mercury Recycling Limited, and specialising in lamp disposal.

Karraway Recycling
1 Folly Close
Herts WD7 8DR
020 8236 0108

Lampcare (UK) Recycling Ltd
Windlestone Manor, Windlestone
County Durham DL17 0NA
t 01388 721000  f 01388 722227

Lighting Industry Federation
Swan House
207 Balham High Road
London SW17 7BQ
020 8675 5432
For details of professional collectors and recyclers of lighting.

Mercury Recycling Ltd
Unit G
Canalside North, John Gilbert Way
Trafford Park
Manchester M17 1DP
0161 877 0977

38 Maurice Gaymers Road
Gaymers Industrial Estate
Norfolk NR17 2QZ
01953 451 111

SustainaLite Ltd
Swan House
207 Balham High Road
London SW17 7BQ
Accreditation scheme for those who manage end-of-life gas discharge light sources.


Mobile phone and printer cartridges reuse/collection

ActionAid Recycling
Unit 14, Kingsland Trading Estate, St Philips Road, St Philips, Bristol, BS2 0JZ.
0845 3 100 200
Charity Organisation involved in raising vital funding for ActionAid development work in the third world, through the collection and recycling of empty IT consumables (Inkjet and toner cartridges) and mobile phones.

Against Breast Cancer
B363 Curie Avenue
harwell International Business Centre
Oxon OX11 0RA
0870 7744288
Collects ink cartridges and mobile phones through post and collection systems

Cartridges4 Charity
Crieff  PH7 4DZ
0845 121 0674
Materials collected: cartridges - except Epson inkjet, toner cartridges and mobile phones
Proceeds go to three charities: See Ability, Andy Cole Children's foundation, and Cardiac Risk In The Young.

CRUMP (Campaign To Recycle Unwanted Mobile Phones)
Child Advocacy International
75a London Road
Newcastle Under Lyme
01782 712599

3 Glensyl Way, Hawkins Lane Industrial Estate, Burton-on-Trent, Staffordshire DE14 1LX
01283 516 259,
Mobile phone reuse/recycling group that facilitiates donations to nominated charities.

01708 684000  f 01708 684020
Return and recycling for charities of mobile phones through retail outlets.

K2 Supplies
Unit 14, Nonsuch Business Park, Kiln Lane, Epsom. KT17 1DY United Kingdom
01372 723 723
Remanufactures printer cartridges with proceeds supporting Macmillan Cancer Relief Charity

Oxfam Bring Bring Scheme
Freepost LON16281
London WC1N 3BR
0870 752 0999

Scope Toner Donor Campaign
c/o Envirocare
BS11 9JE

Scope Phone Recycling
Justin Thompson
ShP Solutions
Freepost Lancaster
0800 781 2600

UK Cartridge Recyclers Association (UKCRA)
19B School Road, Sale, Manchester M33 7XX,
t  01706 525050,  f 01706 647440, 
Trade association, members must have attained standards for toner cartridge recycling established by the association. Maintains list of companies which have reached and maintained these standards.



White goods & furniture - reuse/ disposal

Create UK
Speke Hall Road, Speke, Liverpool L24 9HA
0151 448 1748
CREATE repairs and refurbishes household appliances, such as fridges, cookers and washing machines, and sells them at reasonable prices. CREATE exists to provide quality training and work for people who are at a disadvantage in the labour market.

Furniture Reuse Network
FRN Membership Office, The Old Drill Hall, 17A Vicarage Street North, Wakefield, West Yorkshire WF1 4JS
01924 375 252
Has details of organisations that take furniture, white goods and household appliances.

The SOFA Project
48-54 West Street, St Philips, Bristol BS2 0BL
0117 954 357
Furniture and electronic equipment scheme across the west.

Local authorities collect white goods such as fridges and washing machines from households. However, if you require names of businesses please search the DTI directory .

CD Recycling

Key Mood UK
Wolf Business Park, Alton Road, Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire HR9 5NB
t 01989 566 288 f 01989 566 288
Email: www.keymood.co.uk/enquire.html
website: www.keymood.co.uk
Deal with recycling electronic goods, CDs and cassette tapes.

Poly c. Reclaimer
50 Albert Avenue, Prestwich, Manchester, Lancashire M25 0LX
t 0900-619-1817 f 0800-619-1916
Recycles high performance plastic, like CDs.

PolymerReprocessors Ltd
Reeds Lane
Moreton, Wirral
CH46 1DW
t 0151 606 0456 f 0151 606 0427
Accept postal deliveries of CDs from householders


Updated: August-05




Due to changes in funding, we are no longer able to offer a telephone or email public information service. Should you have further questions on waste and recycling, please contact one of these groups:

Householders and students should call the Recycle Now helpline on 0845 331 31 31 for further waste based information, and where to find your local recycling facilities.

Small to medium businesses should visit the Envirowise website, or call 0800 585 794, for further information on waste issues. Larger businesses should visit www.businesslink.gov.uk.

For industry based questions, please use the WRAP technical helpline on 0808 100 2040 for advice on markets and recycling company development, or visit www.letsrecycle.com for listings of recyclers and reprocessors.

If you find a mistake on this page, have a technical question regarding the wasteonline website, or would be interested in advertising your company logo on this information sheet please email info@wastewatch.org.uk.

Thank you.


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