WEEE (electronic goods)

Filed in by on June 18, 2008 22 Comments

WEEE symbol
Have you ever wondered what that symbol of a crossed out wheelie bin is on packaging and goods?

You’ll find it on electrical goods such as televisions, batteries, phones, fridges, household gadgets and even light bulbs.

What does the symbol mean?

A new law came out in August 2007 with the aim of minimising the impact of electrical and electronic goods on the environment.

That symbol is the WEEE symbol (Waste electrical and electronic equipment) and it basically means, don’t chuck it in the bin!

Put simply, WEEE encourages us to re-use, recycling and reducing the amount of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) going to landfill.

Why can’t I WEEE in the bin?

This law states that any electric or electronic equipment that is no longer needed (anything with a battery or plug to you and I, such as washing machines, vacuum cleaners, kettles, computers or battery-operated children’s toys) cannot go into the landfill and has to be disposed of separately from household rubbish.

In 2006, we dumped a shocking one million tonnes of electrical goods into the landfill. This is set to rise as more and more electrical goods have inbuilt obsolescence and are so cheap it is more economical for consumers to throw them away than repair.

Throwing them away however, is not a good choice. Electronic goods contain hazardous substances such as lead which can affect the environment, leach into groundwater and effect our health if they are disposed of incorrectly.

Recycling WEEE, on the other hand, helps to recover valuable resources such as precious metals, plastics and steel which reduce the need for raw materials.

How do I responsibly dispose of electric and electronic goods?

Retailers have to offer consumers a way to get rid of old equipment when you buy the new equivalent. Small lightweight objects such as kettles can be taken back to the store when you buy a new one. For larger items, they will give you information about local collection from your authority. Alternatively, they will take back the items themselves.

For bulky deliveries such as a washing machine or cooker, retailers will take away your old equipment when they deliver the new goods.

If you buy a small item online, such as a router, check to see if the company you are buying from offers a Freepost address for returning your old equipment.

If you have a designated WEEE collection facility at your local household waste site you can take goods there or ring your council for collection. Check out where your nearest participating facility is with Recycle Now.

If you are getting rid of something in working order then consider donating it. Ask around your friends, family, work colleagues or local hospital. Alternatively, sign up for your local Freecycle group where you can offer your items for free.

About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (22)

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  1. Debbie says:

    Are you able to e-mail thorugh a file which shows the wheelie bin sign with the horizontal line below it so I am able to forward this to my supplier in India?

    Many thanks


  2. Hi Mrs Green,

    White goods have been treated separately for years, especially now with high scrap metal prices. There is value in these articles making it worthwhile to recycle. My last cast-off was a gas cooker which the council collected, though most companies take old replaced items.

  3. Mrs Green says:

    Debbie, welcome to the site. The symbol is the one shown at the top of this post. If you right click on it and select the ‘save image as’ option, you will be able to download it onto your computer and then email it to your supplier.

    Hi John, we met someone yesterday who I bet you would have loved to chat to. He told us that he gathers all his steel or aluminium cans, crushes them and places them in a large steel drum which he sells, when full, for scrap metal prices. He has been doing this all his life………….

    You still see these white goods dumped outside people’s houses though. And I remember the first ever ‘offer’ on the Freecycle group I started. It was for an electric cooker, brand new, never been used but with one hob ring not working. When the lady phoned the manufacturer to report the fault they sent her a replacement and told her to throw the other cooker away. It seems a crime.

  4. The price of scrap has literally fallen off it’s perch now and is below the price 2 years ago. It’s fair to say that WEEE recyclers need to be a little more clued up about markets if they’re going to survive the next coupe of years of turmoil.

  5. Mrs Green says:

    IT-Green Recycling, welcome to the site. It’s good to hear from someone ‘on the inside’ as it were. I hope things are ok for you.

  6. Mrs Green,

    Many thanks for the welcome. I’d have to agree with you about the Cooker fiasco. Manufacturers are not exactly the greatest proponents of recycling- it’s the main reason why there’s so many independant electronics recyclers throughout the developed world. If resource prices were to rise again, I’m sure all that would change as takeback and resource extraction could potentially offset excessive manufacturing costs- as we’re now discovering in certain resource markets, where we can sell materials direct to manufacturers and side-step the re-processors.

  7. Mrs Green says:

    Hi again,
    It’s interesting to hear about your knowledge in this field – thank you for sharing things with us here. As consumers, we don’t see the half of it! Although I was pleased to see yesterday, at the recycling centre, some builders who were separating their waste. I’ve felt that the construction industry were very wasteful, so this was a good thing to witness.
    I notice from you site, on the computer recycling page, that you adopt a zero to landfill policy. It’s amazing to think of how many computers we must have thrown away in the past if all the materials really are salvageable. Now I understand why Peter Mills is considering digging up landfill sites for valuables!

  8. Yep, it’s been a hot topic in the Chartered Inst. of Waste Management’s magazine. A couple of months ago, the hot topic was mining for plastics in landfill sites. Think that the market crash is going to put pay to that idea for a while. I hate the way the industry is run though. Mainstream recyclers (those contracted to local Authorities) are looking at large wholesale markets only (China, India etc) and stifle themselves during a downturn simple because they can’t ride out the storm. At the end of the day, we’re going to loose a lot of raw resources during the current financial climate, simply because it’s not financially viable to seperate the waste and sell on the resources wholesale.

  9. Mrs Green says:

    It can be frustrating, can’t it? Sometimes I wonder how the country would fare if we had ‘ordinary’ people in charge for a year 🙂

  10. Helen says:

    Hi there, can anyone tell me where i can recycle old cables, phone chargers, USB cables, camera chargers etc etc. Do the places that take computers/phones/electronic equipment take things like this. I have a box of this stuff which i can’t bear to send to landfill…

  11. Mrs Green says:

    Hi Helen,
    Welcome to the site and thanks for your comment.
    For your electronic goods, Freecycle, Snaffle Up or Ooffoo might be good starting places. You might have JUST the thing that someone needs as a spare. You could also try selling on eBay. Before now I have bought a charger and a manual to something that I received second hand, so you never know who might be looking for the stuff you have.

    IT Green (http://www.it-green.co.uk) are worth looking into for computer cable recycling; I think they strip out the metal or reuse them.

    Our local recycling centre now takes ‘general waste electronics’ Now I haven’t investigated exactly what this means, but it would be worth phoning your local council to find out if they take any of the items you mention.

    Other people who might love them would be a local small repairs shop.

    I hope you find a home for them! and let us know if you find a great resource we all need to know about 🙂

  12. Poppy says:

    Before Christmas we were toying with idea of geting a new fridge-freezer, but having now looked at the price of replacing like for like, we are now going to see how much it would cost us to get the door seals replaced. Presumable one heck of a lot less than buying new!!

  13. Mrs Green says:

    @Poppy: Hey that’s interesting; keep us posted on that. Did we blog about Mr G mending our patio door? Instead of replacement he just put in new rollers and it works like new. Genius! Good luck with the fridge.

  14. Whenever you buy goods with the above symbol I would suggest asking the shopkeepers if they accept the kit your are replacing. Many operate takeback schemes that offer such a facility (eg. you buy a new washing machine so ask the people you are buying the equipment from if they will take away your old machine when they deliver the new one).

  15. Jane says:

    @TBC Recycling: I fully agree with this. Sometimes it is free and sometimes it is for a small amount. I wonder how many people don’t take up this offer and then find out that they can’t get rid of their electrical stuff as easily or as cheaply as they had thought? Or maybe they just just didn’t think. Shouldn’t there be more information in BIGGER writing when you buy something new? You can also ask for the packaging to be taken away as well.

  16. Mrs Green says:

    @TBC Recycling: Hiya, welcome to the site and thanks for sharing the tip – many people are not aware that most shops in the UK who deliver electric items have to take the old ones for disposal – thanks for the reminder.

  17. Thanks for the welcome. It’s not just shops that operate schemes like this – some service companies do too. For example, if you book a sky dish installation most of their installation engineers are instructed to offer to take your old electrical equipment away (not just tv related equipment). They would probably not be able to take large items, but should be happy to take away old toasters etc.

    Likewise any company that offers a delivery service for electrical goods will have the facility to take the equipment the new goods replace. If they are part of a takeback scheme then that’s the ideal way to have the equipment processed properly.

  18. Poppy says:

    @TBC Recycling:

    I noticed that the bigger supermarkets around Cheltenham that sell small electrical goods, have a notice up telling people that they can recycle unwanted electrical goods at the Swindon Rd council depot or at Stoke Orchard.

    I guess there’s some ruling about proximity to appropriate facilities.

  19. Jane says:

    @Poppy: I think they had the choice of joining a take-back scheme or putting money towards the local Reuse & Recycling facility.

  20. Mrs Green says:

    @TBC Recycling: I didn’t know service companies would take away all WEEE – I thought it would be ‘like for like’ – great to know; thank you!

  21. Poppy says:

    Thinking forward – My vacuum cleaner had one of it’s what seem to be, regular hiccups last week. The fanbelt had had enough and went pfftt in a puff of smoke. Okay I thought ….. I can deal with this …. so off I went to the local repair shop where I was given the choice of buying 2 or none! Luckily after a few curses and a soak in hotwater (the fanbelt, not me!), I managed to put 1 of the new belts on.

    So the question is, what do I now do with the spare belt? Sods law says that either we will never need it, or if we do, we won’t be able to find it. Should I offer it on Freecycle/ Freegle now and hope that someone returns the favour if the worst happens or commit to the depths of the cupboard, never to be seen again?!

  22. Mrs Green says:

    @Poppy: Oh how annoying; I’ve come across things like that too. Why do they do that? I guess they are so cheap to produce or something…

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