UK households sitting on a goldmine of tech treasure, stockpiling an estimated 527m unwanted electricals

  • International E-Waste Day (14th October 2022) slogan: ‘Recycle it all, no matter how small!’
  • UK households hoard 20 discarded devices each, with mobile phones the most hoarded piece of tech
  • Tech treasure - world's rarest materials sit idle in drawers and cupboards of UK homes
  • There’s 100 times more gold in a tonne of mobile phones than in a tonne of gold ore
  • Last year Currys kept nearly 17m kgs of tech in circulation through in-home and repair centre operations
  • Currys Cash for Trash offers customers £5 voucher every time they recycle tech, with 40,000 customers benefiting so far, with the campaign live until November 15th
  • 290 Currys UK stores offer free recycling, where consumers can hand over their tech treasure

12th October 2022, International E-Waste Day 2022: Currys, the UK’s largest technology retailer, is asking the nation to hand it over, don’t hoard it, as UK households sit on a goldmine of tech treasure that could put vital components back into circulation. The country is currently stockpiling an estimated 527 million1 unwanted electrical items - the equivalent of 20 items per UK household1.

This year’s International E-Waste Day slogan is ‘Recycle it all, no matter how small!’ and aims to highlight how small, end of life electronics present a significant challenge globally. In 2019, the UN estimated that over 22m tonnes of small e-waste was produced worldwide and this is expected to rise to 29m tonnes by 2030, with total e-waste expected to grow to 75m tonnes globally by 2030.

According to Currys, UK hoarders of small e-waste are holding onto a treasure chest of vital components and materials that could sustainably be put back into circulation. Each year, more than £850m2 of precious metals could be salvaged from old electricals, including enough gold to make more than 850,000 rings2. Today, more precious metals such as gold, silver and palladium can be found in e-waste than in natural ores in the ground4. In fact, 95m tonnes of these three metals alone could be salvaged from e-waste each year in the UK.2

As part of its mission to help everyone enjoy amazing technology, Currys wants to change people’s relationship with technology by giving tech a longer life. It is marking International E-Waste Day by calling on the nation to clear out cupboards and declutter drawers to give unwanted tech treasure a new life via its take back service for discarded devices, as well as to cash in on unwanted items via it’s Cash for Trash campaign. Currys’ most recent Cash for Trash campaign has been popular with customers, with over 40,000 customers having handed in their old unwanted tech to claim their vouchers since it launched the campaign in March, and through that have saved almost £200,000.

Currys’ takeback service is available at 290 of its stores and provides tech hoarders with the option to hand-in small electrical tech items for free, no matter where they were originally purchased. After an item is handed in, the Currys team assesses it to identify opportunities to reuse, recycle and harvest for parts, so it can be given a new and longer life in another form, via its circular model.

Last year, only a third of UK adults recycled their unwanted electricals5. However, materials and components from unwanted electricals can be salvaged and used to repair similar items or recycled so that precious metals can be used again. Up to 60 different elements from the periodic table can be found in complex electronics6.  And at Currys repair centre, which is the largest electronic repair centre in Europe, handed-in tech is repaired or if it is beyond fixing, then it is harvested for parts to repair other pieces of tech with other elements recycled. The retailer is also working with one of its partners on an innovative bioleaching process that sees live organisms separate key metals from shredded circuit boards, so that they can be put back into circulation.

The UK’s unending love affair with the mobile phone has made it the nation’s most hoarded item5. If 1 in 10 UK households handed in, rather than hoarded a smartphone, this would put 5.5m phones7 back into circulation. With the average smart phone weighting 175g8 this could potentially lead to nearly one million kg of materials being put back into the economy9. The average smartphone also contains around 30 different elements10 and there is 100 times more gold in a tonne of mobile phones than in a tonne of gold ore11.  It is also estimated that there are 31m hidden laptops in UK homes, which contain enough steel to make 159,000 playground swings3

Other small e-waste items that tend to be hoarded or discarded incorrectly include electric toothbrushes, toasters and cameras. They make up a significant proportion of the 8% of all e-waste that is thrown in waste bins which is subsequently landfilled or incinerated. The important raw materials they contain forever lost.

Moira Thomas, Group Sustainable Business & ESG Director at Currys comments: “At Currys we recognise the pressing need to improve our use of resources and create circular business models, which is why we are a leader in extending the life of technology through our repair, recycling and reuse programmes.

“As the UK’s largest tech retailer, helping our customers enjoy their kit means, as well as assisting them in choosing shiny new amazing tech, we must support them in giving a longer life to the tech they already have. This is why Currys is making the recycling, repairing and rehoming of unwanted tech so much easier for those who want to do the right thing with unwanted devices and e-waste but don’t necessarily know where to start.

“There are millions of tonnes of tech treasure sitting idle in homes up and down the country, which is why we are encouraging people to hand it over, don’t hoard it. We want the nation to hand in their unwanted tech via our instore take back service and Cash for Trash campaign, so that we can get vital materials back into the manufacturing cycle. We estimate that last year, Currys kept nearly 17 million kilograms of tech in circulation. We want to that grow that number.”

When it comes to taking a circular approach to the products it sells, Currys has always been ahead of the curve, offering a repair service to its customers for the past 40 years. Today, the UK &I operation checks and repairs 850,000 products a year and Currys operates Europe’s largest electronic repair centre, ensuring its customers can continue to enjoy their amazing technology for longer. The retailer also recycles over 100,000 tonnes of used tech every year across it Group, which is the equivalent weight of over 50,000 London black cabs. In 2021/22* Currys collected 116,000 customer products through its trade in operation, with over 2,400 tonnes of used tech diverted for reuse.