Unwanted electronics

Report: Third of the UK don’t know how to recycle unwanted electronics

Four out of ten Brits (41%) have cupboards, drawers or bags full of electrical waste

New BT research has revealed that almost half all of Brits (41%) say they have cupboards, drawers or bags full of unwanted electrical waste as nearly a third (31%) don’t know how to recycle it.

The news comes as BT reveals it has recycled nearly a million pieces of BT equipment since the start of 2020, preventing nearly 170 tonnes of electrical waste from going to landfill, equivalent to the weight of 13 double-decker buses¹.

The research found that the most common items Brits don’t know how to recycle are printers (31%), cables (30%) and hair dryers (29%), all of which can be recycled. Nearly three quarters (74%) admit to having chucked electronics into black bin liners, committing the goods to landfill rather than taking them to be recycled. More than half (55%) engaged in ‘wishful recycling’ – throwing unwanted electronics into the recycling bin in the hope they’ll reach a recycling centre.

When it comes to good intentions, younger people are getting in a tangle over unwanted electronics, with nearly twice as many 16 to 24 year olds (40%) unsure what to do when it comes to recycling e-waste, compared to those over 55 (21%).

The vast majority of 16 to 24 year olds (85%) have thrown electronics in regular bins compared to 51% of those 55 and over. Two thirds (68%) of 16 to 24 year olds have also placed electronics amongst other recycling, compared to 32% of those 55 and over.

Matthew Hughes, Director of Broadband at BT, said, 

“We made some changes in 2019 that make it compulsory to return broadband routers to us after use, which has really boosted our recycling efforts. Thanks to these changes and the commitment of our customers, we’ve prevented the release of 11,430 tonnes of carbon dioxide, the equivalent of 6,000 flights from London to Tokyo¹.”

Top 10 old electrical items the nation stores unused at home

  • Cables (44%)
  • Remote controls (41%)
  • Hair dryers (39%)
  • Wired headphones (38%)
  • Printers (35%)
  • Games consoles (32%)
  • Broadband hub (29%)
  • TV set-top boxes (27%)
  • Smart speakers (26%)
  • Wi-Fi extenders (21%

Andie Stevens, Associate Director at the Carbon Trust Advisory, ICT sector lead said, “BT makes it easy for customers to return unwanted and unneeded equipment, preventing tonnes of electrical waste and plastic from going to landfill. The recycling and refurbishment programme is a great initiative, demonstrating the commitment to circularity and achieving long-term sustainability goals by reducing the carbon intensity of products.”

BT estimates hundreds of thousands of items of unused electronic equipment in customers’ homes could be refurbished and recycled.