Brits are sitting on 15 million unused phones

Don’t throw old tech in the bin - it is toxic to wildlife in landfill  (Eirik Solheim / Unsplash)
Don’t throw old tech in the bin - it is toxic to wildlife in landfill (Eirik Solheim / Unsplash)

With consumer technology receiving new and upgraded versions every year, a new study from Virgin Media O2 has revealed just how much-unloved technology is being hoarded in cupboards and attics around the country.

The survey of 2,000 adults found that outdated mobile phones are by far the most common old devices for tech hoarders. There are an estimated 15 million unused phones around the country, according to the poll — which is perhaps unsurprising, given the encouragement from networks to upgrade at the end of two-year contracts.

DVD players were the next most common unused electrical, with around 7 million in circulation, followed by TVs (6.1 million), USB sticks (5.6 million), radios (4.7 million), and headphones (4.6 million.) To give you an idea of the scale of the problem, even the item in 20th place — unused computer monitors — are sitting in an estimated 1.9 million homes.

The reasons will no doubt sound familiar to those of us with our own stash of shame. Fifteen per cent of unused tech is outdated, while a further 14 per cent is no longer required. Twelve per cent of the items are broken or faulty, distinctly limiting their resale value or appeal as donations.

And why are they being hoarded? Seventeen per cent are keeping hold of devices as a backup in case their replacements break, while 11 per cent hope to one day get them fixed.

A further nine per cent simply don’t know how to dispose of old tech safely, so here are some pointers.

How to dispose of old, unwanted technology

The survey is to highlight the Time After Time fund — a £500,000 joint initiative between Virgin Media O2 and Hubbub, searching for “innovative approaches” to tackling myriad problems associated with e-waste. But what is the right way to dispose of unwanted tech in the meantime?

If your tech is still working and reasonably modern, then you may find it can be sold for more than you’d expect. Ebay, Music Magpie, and CEX are good starting points for selling tech of all kinds but, if you’re sat on a pile of old phones, you may want to specifically consider the likes of Mazuma and Envirophone.

You may have also spotted an EcoATM in your local supermarket. Just pop your old phone into the machine, and get a cash offer there and then. You can find your nearest one here.

You may decide you’d prefer to donate your old technology to give it a new lease of life. While plenty of charity shops won’t take tech due to the added hassle of testing, the British Heart Foundation offers a collection service for bulkier items. Alternatively, Three’s Reconnected service allows you to donate an old phone to someone who needs it, while the Weee Charity will collect all sorts of items to be reused, recycled, or sold, with any profits donated back to the community.

If you’re sure that your item is too old or broken to be of any use to anyone, don’t do what 32 per cent of the survey’s respondents did and dispose of electronics with your regular household rubbish. Consumer tech contains harmful chemicals and metals that can pollute soil and water, causing misery for local wildlife.

Instead, consider dropping your items off at Currys. The retailer claims to collect, reuse, and recycle 65,000 tonnes of old tech per year and smaller items won’t cost you a penny. Just drop them off in the collection boxes instore and the company’s recycling partners will do the rest, reusing where possible, and stripping out important resources for reuse when not.