Skip to main content

Recycling, repairing and reusing electrical goods

What should you do with your old phones, laptops and other tech?

In this article we look at recycling, repairs, and selling-on to give your electronics a second life.

Every time we throw electrical products away, we waste precious metals and other resources and, if we buy a new product to replace it, we increase our carbon footprint.

An important part of reducing our climate impact therefore is to look at reducing the amount of electrical items thrown away.

We produce 57 million tonnes of electronic waste every year from thrown away laptops, phones and other products worldwide. That’s equivalent to more than the weight of the Great Wall of China.

Reduce electronic waste

Many items are thrown away long before they need to be. In fact, one London charity recently surveyed almost 600 items bought for recycling and found that almost half could be immediately reused or needed only minor repairs. By continuing to use them ourselves, repairing or selling them on, we can increase the lifespan of our electronics goods and reduce the amount we buy.

When thinking about the carbon footprint of an item, it’s useful to think about the emissions from both its manufacture and its use. For almost all technologies, the carbon footprint from manufacturing a product is far far greater than for the whole time it is in use. That means that it isn’t worth replacing your phone, laptop or even your TV before it breaks even though newer models can be more energy efficient.

If something does break, before replacing it immediately, think about how often you use it.

Some electrical items we might only use a couple of times a year, for example a power drill, and you may be able to borrow one informally from a friend or neighbour, or use a local Library of Things if there is one near where you live. Our directory of Library of Things has over 50 entries across Britain. By borrowing an item you are helping reduce the environmental waste of electrical goods.

Repairing electrical items

Many small defects with electronic items can be cheaply repaired – whether that’s a smashed screen or a faulty battery. 

Most towns have small repair shops where you can take your electronics to an expert for repairs. Other jobs can be done at home. And some companies offer postal repair services.

The iFixit website is full of guides to doing your own repairs and covers many different makes and models. It also has a forum for tricky questions

If you want more hands on help, you could find a Repair Cafe near you. These are community-based meet-ups that provide tools and volunteer support to help you fix your own goods (including everything from furniture to electronics). The Repair Cafe website has a map of more than 100 in the UK. 

The Restart Project – a London-based social enterprise focused on changing our throwaway relationship to tech – also lists lots of upcoming ‘Restart Parties’ for fixing electronics around the world.

Reusing electrical goods

If your item is still working, but is unused or you’ve decided to upgrade, there are a few options for giving it a new home. 

There are lots of options for selling your tech. You could try to sell it on eBay or to an electronics shop like Cex that trades in used items.

Price comparison websites like and will help you find the best price. It is important to check that the buyer is credible before selling. Sell my Mobile’s website recommends phones be sent via special delivery to buyers, rather than using their Freepost address, so you have proof of postage.

Remember to factory reset your item before selling to wipe all your personal data (there are lots of tutorials on Google for how to do this).

Donating items can also be a great option. The Restart Project has an excellent map online that lists groups in the UK that accept laptop donations. Many of them even take broken laptops which they repair, sometimes training up service users in the process. The laptops then go to places like schools or community projects that are helping to address the digital divide.

Many charity shops will also accept electrical goods. There is a full list on the Recycle Your Electricals website – although it’s probably worth phoning the specific shop you want to donate to, to make sure it accepts them.

You can give away or receive unwanted items for free on Freecycle or Freegle.

Short video on ethics and mobile phones

Recycling electrical goods

Once items truly reach the end of their life, you can recycle them. 

Electronics should never go straight in the bin because of the hazardous substances they contain. By recycling them, you can also ensure that precious metals and other useful materials in them will be reused. 

Since 2007, retailers have been legally obligated to either take back electrical items for recycling or to help finance national collection facilities. Many retailers – such as Curry’s – have opted to provide their own disposal service. They will take back goods even if they weren’t purchased in the shop to make sure they’re disposed of properly. 

You can also find your nearest facility using the Recycling Locator.

Buying refurbished electrical items like phones

If you’re looking to replace your items, the most environmentally friendly option will always be buying something pre-loved. 

Refurbished or reconditioned electronics have been professionally restored by a manufacturer or retailer to the closest it can get to ‘as new’ condition. They may only have been used as display or demo items and often come with warranties.

There are a few ways to find refurbished items: 

  1. Buy from the manufacturer. For example, Apple sells refurbished iPhones, iPads, iPods and Macs. Samsung sells ‘certified pre-owned phones’. This option will be more expensive than buying direct from a specialist site, but will still save you a lot compared to buying new. 
  2. Buy from a specialist site. Some specialist electronics sellers offer many different brands and models refurbished. Backmarket, CeX, Argos and Curry’s are good for all kinds of electronics, and Giff Gaff, O2 Like New and others offer phones. MoneySavingsExpert has a longer list of options for mobiles.
  3. Buy direct from the seller. You can also find smaller electronics specialists or individuals refurbishing tech on websites like eBay. This is likely to be the cheapest option, but comes with risks attached. MoneySavingsExpert says: “If you want to go direct, always make sure you're buying from a trader to ensure you're getting maximum protection (a trader's defined as someone who makes or sells goods bought with the intention of resale – look for 'registered as a business seller' on profiles).” 

MoneySavingsExpert has a handy table of refurbished phone sellers and their warranties and protections. 

Used devices which haven’t been refurbished won’t have gone through the same checks so there’s less of a guarantee of quality. Plus, they’re mainly sold by private sellers, which means they’re unlikely to come with a warranty. With a used device it’s a case of caveat emptor, or ‘let the buyer beware’.

We have more information on buying refurbished tech in a separate article.

Buying secondhand tech items

If you want to buy a secondhand phone, the following tips can help:

  • Make sure the phone works! Your best bet is often to buy a phone that you can test out in person first. 
  • Check the phone is not blocked or registered as stolen by visiting 
  • Make sure the model has a replaceable battery. Lots of old phones don’t hold their charge so well, so this is a good way to make sure you won’t end up with an unusable device. 
  • Find out which networks the phone is compatible with.
  • Ask for a receipt.