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Travelling tellies – where does our electrical recycling go?

Most electrical appliances don’t last forever, and there comes a time when they need to be replaced. But how easy is it to recycle old televisions? Where do they end up?

To find out where our electrical recycling goes we put GPS trackers into six televisions, took them to Comet, Currys and recycling centres and tracked where they went. One TV we recycled at a Croydon recycling centre went to China by boat, stopping off at Greece and Sri Lanka on route.

Another we took to London’s Lambeth recycling centre went to Kent to be dismantled. The tracker didn’t survive this. However, the council said parts would have gone toB elgium, China, Germany, South Korea, Sweden and the UK.

Did they all get recycled?

The TV (or part of it) that we took to Currys, ended up at Southampton docks. After an investigation, Currys couldn’t explain our television’s destination, so it appears that all or part of it may not have been recycled.

Currys said it believed this was a one-off that it was investigating internally, saying that its approach to recycling is ‘… in full accordance with government processes, uses approved processors and is regularly monitored by the relevant authorities.’ You can see what happened to each of the TVs we recycled by watching our TV recycling investigation video.

Are we actually taking our electricals to be recycled?

When we asked people what they actually do with their old appliances, it turned out that many smaller appliances aren’t actually taken to be recycled. In our survey of more than 2,000 Brits, only around a third of people said they took their old appliances to be recycled. More than one in ten admitted to putting them in the bin – this was higher for small things like irons and kettles.

And a fifth of people hadn’t done anything at all with them. This certainly rings true with me. I’ve got an old laptop that’s been sitting in my flat, not getting recycled, for two years. Without a car to get to a recycling centre, I don’t see this situation improving any time soon.

Do you take your electricals to be recycled? How easy is it to do this near you? What would make it easier?

Do you recycle electrical goods?

Yes, I take them to a household recycling centre (54%, 269 Votes)

It depends on the item (22%, 112 Votes)

Yes, I take them to a charity shop (6%, 30 Votes)

Yes, my local council collects them from my home (4%, 22 Votes)

No, they just gather dust (4%, 22 Votes)

No, I repair them instead (4%, 21 Votes)

No, I just put them in the bin (4%, 20 Votes)

Yes, I take them to an electrical shop like Currys (0%, 2 Votes)

Total Voters: 502

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Within the last couple of months my local council has included a small electrical items collection once a fortnight.

Anything better they will come and collect but you’re then expected to pay upwards of £20.

I do take electrical goods to be recycled and nothing has gone in the bin since I learned that the service is available. If something stops working I try to repair rather than replace it. When I was clearing my parents’ house I took electrical goods to charity shops.

I keep power supplies and other useful parts from faulty equipment because they can come in handy. I would not recommend this to anyone unless they know what they are doing.

Near to me, in Sittingbourne, Kent, is the worlds first TV tube recycling furnace (2012). TV tubes do not need to be exported. They are boiled and refined right here and recover up to 1 kg of lead, the pure glass and all the other goodies and nasties in a fully sealed system. I don’t know about the rest of the TV set though, I guess we can do that too.

I try to repair things first if they have any re-use value. Then I pull them apart to recover any parts that I can re-use. After that it is the local supermarket “pink bin” for small electricals, the battery bank for batteries (where I have manged to recover quite good lap top batteries to re-use). Larger items of course go to a local re-cycling depot which is easy to use. I use the local “Freecycle” or “Freegle” web site to both collect and dispose of items. Your old laptop would be very welcome there reciever collects.
There really is little excuse in very recent months here for not recycling electricals.

I imagine that you are having the same problem as me with the poll. It would be good to be able to choose multiple answers.

Quite. In fact I do 7 of the 8 choices given in the poll. I forget which one I actually went for, probably the repair them one.

I’m in the “It depends on the item” camp as I have to confess that I have put some small electrical things in the rubbish bin as the alternatives are just not convenient, and charity shops don’t want broken or ancient appliances. The things I could repair never seem to break but the things that go wrong defy all attempts at mending. If I can get into them I will try to recover something for reuse, even if it’s only the lead and plug to use as an extension or spare [correctly rated and fused of course, Wavechange, unlike some of those continental types].

One of the options in the poll is: Yes, I take them to an electrical shop like Currys (0%, 0 Votes)

In an earlier Conversation it was mentioned that retailers had an obligation to recycle old products but when I investigated this I found out that Tesco claim to contribute to municipal recycling services in order to discharge their liability to accept goods for recycling.

Can anyone provide any information on whether well known stores will accept anything more than used batteries?

I bought a new chest freezer from Comet in September, when they delivered it in late October, they took the old freezer away ( although I did have to pay £10 for them to do it, booked at the time of ordering the new freezer). I have no idea where it ended up though.

Oddly enough they didn’t unwrap the new freezer or dispose of the mountain of plastic wrapping paper, which I had to do myself.

Very interesting point, Wavechange. So if you intend to buy a new telly in Tesco’s, and you take your old one in with you when you go to buy it, you will soon discover that you’ll have to take the old one back out in order to dispose of it yourself because they’ve “traded off” their obligation. I might be inclined to cancel the purchase, but from Tesco’s point of view, and the public’s indirectly, their policy makes a lot of sense – the cost and other resources involved in installing reception facilities and all the control and safety procedures on a store-by-store basis are never going to be worth while, and the efficient concentration of safe disposal at municipal facilities is generally better for the environment and offers the prospect of a community return if competently managed. But I should certainly be interested to learn how Tesco calculates the amount of money to hand over to each local authority as its contribution to their recycling effort and whether any of that money actually reaches the right place. And what do other major retailers do? They all sell electrical hardware these days. Will Boots take back an old cassette player from the days when they sold such goods? Is the obligation limited to exchanges for a new purchase?

I don’t know the answer, John. All I seem to be able to find relating to recycling on the Tesco website is blank pages. I’ve tracked down what I posted in an earlier Conversation (Oct 2011):

It would be nice if Tesco would take your broken vacuum cleaner to save a trip to the recycling centre, but I don’t think it is going to happen. Have a look at this, which was published before the current scheme:


It suggests that Tesco has discharged its liability to collect WEEE waste when you purchase an replacement product by contributing to the cost of council recycling facilities.

It will be very interesting to see how the new scheme run by Tesco does work.

It would be nice to know how the major shops are handling their obligations regarding recycling of electrical goods.

Municipal recycling centres are being ‘rationalised’ [i.e. small ones closed] in our part of the world, leading to longer journeys for disposal. This is claimed to be a response to reduced budgets, but it prompts the question: where is all the money being contributed by Tesco and others actually going? Presumably, if it is all being accounted for correctly, replacing money that would otherwise have been provided by the county council and which is now being spent on other things [but not trading standards perhaps].

The population might have wanted any extra money arising from retailers under the WEEE directive [does it have a future here now?] to be used to enhance recycling facilities and reduce travel times by expanding local provision.

That’s a good question, John. I don’t even know how much Tesco et al. contribute towards the cost of waste disposal. Cheryl Tebbutt makes an interesting observation about Currys accepting waste electrical items at their stores and I have provided a link, which will probably not be approved until after the weekend.

I’m lucky that I have space in the garage to accumulate the small amount of electrical waste that I produce and have a car to visit the recycling site occasionally. I’m glad that many supermarkets accept used batteries and low energy lamps and would like to see this extended to include smaller electronic items such as phones, music players, etc. Functional products can be offered to charity shops.

Catherine says:
2 February 2013

While arranging for the council to collect a fridge-freezer I mentioned that I had some small electrical items, eg kettle for disposal. I was surprised to be told that they should be put in the normal waste bin, in a bag.

Electronic items should definitely be recycled with electronic waste. A kettle does not usually contain electronic components so might be put with metals at a recycling centre. I’m surprised that anyone should suggest putting these things in the waste bin.

The small electrical items bins have only recently been introduced (last 6 months) in the Kent Sussex area. They are “pink bins” here. The chute is only 30 x 30 cm, so some dismantling is sometimes needed to get large printers and combos in there.
This has been far too long in coming, and here we have always been told to take them to the recycling depot (the tip).
If it is a plastic kettle maybe the dump is the only place, if it is a metal one then it should really be re-cycled. A kettle is perhaps not as bad as a printer, but it is never good to be told to put it in the waste bin.

You are probably right about the kettle, Brian. I think of kettles as metal because I have never had a plastic kettle. A powerful heater in a plastic container seems to much like a fire hazard to me.

@wavechange, Interesting you look it it that way round. My view, electricity being used by a metal container, no thank you. Especially if it one of those 2 pin ( no earth cable ) jobbies.

I’ve never heard of a metal electric kettle without an earth. Mine is earthed and I check the continuity periodically.

The kettle element will always be metal, that metal will always be in contact with the water, impure water will always conduct electricity, the kettle always needs to be earthed. It matters not whether the container is metal or plastic.

Absolutely. Electric heaters are prone to insulation breakdown, which is often detected during PAT testing – something not often done in the home, though it is worth doing. An sufficiently large earth leak will trip an RCD. I don’t know what William was referring to.

Maybe we are getting off topic. 🙂

Sorry William. I did not spot your message until it appeared on the homepage. Which? approves every message containing a link – even those to other Conversations.

Rosemary says:
5 April 2013

I live in Exeter and the council charge £15 to take small electrical appliances away. I live in a 1st floor flat so charities wont collect because of health and safety and I don’t have transport so don’t have the means of taking my microwave and tv anywhere. I’ve sent queries to two recycling companies who collect in Exeter but they haven’t replied. If anybody has any ideas as to how I can get rid of the stuff I would be grateful. Both are in working order although the microwave has some smoke damage (experimented doing oven chips!!)

seems CURRYS take all electrical even is you never bought the item in their shop. I learnt this yesterday. they also take HOOVERS/VACUUM CLEANERS they assure me all is recycled (parts etc.) or they fix it in poorer countries..I also recycled the ink containers there. they reuse
this was yesterday in CROYDON CURRYS………wish I knew this before¬!

I found this difficult to believe, Cheryl, but you are right: http://www.currys.co.uk/gbuk/recycle-1042-theme.html

Many other retailers expect you to use the local recycling facilities, claiming to offer financial support for the service.