With the demand and production of electronic devices growing each year, e-waste is quickly becoming the fastest growing waste stream in the developed world.
So much so that in June 2022, the European Parliament passed a law that all small and medium-sized portable devices, such as mobile phones, will have a USB Type-C charging port. This decision was made in the hopes of reducing the number of electronic chargers being produced unnecessarily and discarded inappropriately.
Apart from these laws, there are ways that you too can help reduce the circulation and damaging effects of electronic waste.
From selling your old devices online to dropping them off at a designated electronic waste recycling centre, there are lots of sustainable and eco-friendly options out there.
So without further ado, let’s jump in and discover the different ways you can dispose of your e-waste.
What is e-waste?
To understand what e-waste is, first you must understand the definition of an electronic device. This is any item that needs a battery or a power supply to work properly, such as a fridge or smartphone.
When these electronic devices or equipment are discarded or no longer used, it is considered e-waste, which is also known as WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment).
Why should I dispose of e-waste?
According to EU data, each person in Europe is responsible for stockpiling on average 5kg of e-waste annually. While according to WEEE Ireland, the average home has 15-20 used or broken appliances being hoarded waiting to be recycled.
Although you might think that hoarding your devices is good for the environment as they aren’t in a landfill, keeping these devices in your home is actually doing more harm than good.
By recycling your e-waste you are ensuring that:
Valuable raw materials can be extracted and re-used
According to WEEE Ireland, by recycling your electronic waste, 85% of these valuable materials such as plastics, glass and metal can be used again when safely recovered and treated through authorised recycling centres.
Your carbon footprint is lowered
A lot of resources and energy are poured into the manufacturing of new electronic devices.
However, by recycling broken devices or by putting old products back into circulation again, you are lowering the amount of CO2 emissions being emitted from the production of new devices or the unnecessary extraction of raw materials from the environment.
According to WEEE Ireland, in 2022, the equivalent of 216,157 tonnes of C02 emissions was saved by recycling e-waste through their WEEE Ireland Scheme.
You stop harmful materials from entering the environment
By disposing of your electronic devices and batteries properly, and not in landfills or incineration facilities, you are ensuring that the hazardous materials and gases in these products, like mercury or lead, do not contaminate the local environment.
When these toxic materials are dumped inappropriately, they can harm human health and the surrounding habitat. They can also cause serious fires.
What type of electronic devices can I dispose of?
- Mobile phones - smartphones
- Washing machines
- Single-use and rechargeable batteries
- Electrical tools and toys
6 ways to get rid of your e-waste safely
1. Return your old electrical item to the retailer
Retailers operate a free take-back system for WEEE in Ireland which runs on a one-for-one, like-for-like basis. This means you can bring your WEEE to a retailer or shop when you’re buying a new product. It also doesn’t have to be the same place where you bought the product originally.
As this take-back system operates on a like-for-like basis, the item you are returning must be similar to or perform the same function as the item you are replacing it with. For example, you can return an old kettle if you are buying a new kettle, but you can’t return a kettle if you are buying a new microwave.
However, you don’t always have to buy an item in-store in order to dispose of your e-waste at a shop. If it is a large store with an electrical-good sales area that is bigger than 400 square metres, then they must accept any small appliances under 25 cm high for recycling without you needing to purchase anything in store.
All retailers are required to inform you about their take-back services, as well as the other ways you can dispose of your electrical waste when you are purchasing an item from them. This could be in the form of leaflets or signs displayed in-store.
Why is it free to return WEEE items to retailers?
Technically, it is not ‘free’ to return WEEE items to the retailer. Although you may not be aware of this, during the initial buying process you paid to have the item recycled.
This is because when you buy certain electrical items from a retailer, an additional charge known as vEMC or ‘visible Environmental Management Cost’ is included in the retail cost. This charge provides the retailer with money to help pay for the costs of recycling the product.
The vEMC charge varies depending on the type and size of the electrical item but it ranges between €5-10. The charge will be displayed anywhere the retail price of the item is displayed in-store or online.
As you must pay this charge when purchasing certain electrical items, you have technically paid for your e-waste to be stored and recycled by the retailer.
If you’re getting a new product delivered to your home
If your new product, let’s say a washing machine, is being delivered to your home, you can have your old washing machine (that you previously purchased from the same retailer) collected by them at the same time for free.
The retailer must give you 24 hours' notice of delivery so you can have your old item ready for pick up. If they do not give you due notice, they must return to collect the product within 15 days.
While these WEEE pick-up services are free of charge, you may be subjected to a delivery fee to have your new item brought to your home.
If you don’t want to dispose of your old equipment during this time, you are free to return your old item to the shop when you see fit. The retailer will then dispose of your old electrical waste responsibly.
2. Drop off your e-waste at a registered recycling centre
Across the country, there are WEEE recycling points and lightbulb drop-offs where you can dispose of your old electrical products for free.
These centres will then safely dispose of hazardous materials, extract valuable raw materials and recycle any other leftover parts safely.
You can discover the closest e-waste recycling centre for WEEE, portable batteries, and/or lightbulbs on mywaste.ie or on the WEEE Ireland website. WEEE Ireland also lists the retailers that accept WEEE and batteries.
Before you head to a centre, check to see if they accept the item you want to dispose of as not all centres accept the same products.
3. Dispose of your batteries in free battery deposit boxes
Due to the hazardous waste in batteries, they should never be disposed of with general household waste. Thankfully, it is both free and easy to dispose of batteries across the country.
You will find blue battery recycling boxes from WEEE Ireland in schools, supermarkets, and businesses where you can dispose of your old batteries.
You can also return any used batteries to any retail outlet where they sell these types of batteries, provided they are not leaking.
4. Avail of free public e-waste recycling events
Across Ireland, specific e-waste disposal events are organised throughout the year. Known as public collection days, you can bring your old electronic equipment to these events where they will be taken from you and recycled appropriately.
Check out the WEEE Ireland website to discover when their next public collection event will occur.
5. Sell your item
You can sell your electronic device online on sites such as eBay or Facebook Marketplace. You will be able to set a price yourself and sell to the highest bidder.
If you want to avoid the hassle of organising a sale, you can sell your electronic device directly to a company, that will take care of the rest. If your item is broken or needs to be repaired, this may be the best option for you as the item could be sold for its parts which will then be extracted and reused by the company.
Remember to wipe any personal information off your electronic devices such as a mobile or laptop before you sell them as you do not want anyone to have your personal information.
6. Donate to charity
You can give your used device a second lease of life by donating it to a non-profit organisation, a local school, or a community group. You should contact these organisations in advance to see if they need your devices, such as an old laptop or mobile.
Even if your device is broken, it may still be worth some money to a charity as they may be able to sell your item to a company that buys spare parts.
How can I reduce my e-waste?
Hold off on upgrading
With technology developing at such a rapid pace, companies such as Apple or Samsung, are releasing updated products multiple times a year. However, just because an updated product has been released, it doesn’t mean you must dispose of your fully functioning device for a new one.
Holding off on upgrading your phone will save you money and reduce your e-wastage.
Get your item repaired
If your device is broken you should consider getting it repaired rather than replacing it. By extending your device's lifespan, you are reducing your production of e-waste and helping the environment.
Buy second-hand refurbished products
Purchasing second-hand refurbished products will benefit you financially and help the environment at the same time. For instance, refurbished devices are up to 40% cheaper to buy and release 70% less CO2 emissions than purchasing a new product.
Sustainability companies such as refurbed.ie offer this service and put all their devices through a rigorous testing system to ensure you are getting quality products.
To learn more about refurbed.ie listen to our podcast on this sustainable retailer.
Stay energy-conscious with bonkers.ie
Ireland is working towards creating a greener future, and you can play a part in this goal by making energy-conscious decisions every day.
Check out our energy-conscious guides below:
- Have you considered investing in renewable energy? If so, check out our guide on solar panels and the positive impact they have on the environment or listen to our solar panel podcast special with Dr. Paul Deane.
- Understanding the new energy efficiency labels on appliances will help you make more eco-friendly decisions when purchasing products. Discover how to read these labels here.
- Here are 15 ways that you can lower your energy usage at home and save you money.