Enduring Guide to Appreciating and Disposing of Vintage Electrical and Electronic Items

When it comes to unused, broken or discarded items – anything with a plug and/or an electric charger/battery – should be set aside. It doesn’t have to be that old to be a redundant space blocker. We are always moving towards a circular economy, so component- and metal-rich electrical components should never go in the black bin.

Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) is a dedicated waste recycling initiative, founded in 2005. Their daily job is to direct our old stringy waste to local authority recycling centers and participating WEEE retailers.

WEEE CEO Leo Donovan explains, “Anything that has a plug, battery, or circuit board contains valuable components that can be reused in manufacturing. It’s not just the big pieces of machinery. Some consumers may think that old toys that cannot be repaired and small electronic or electrical items are not as important in terms of recycling as large items – but with the increase in consumption, for example game consoles and entertainment devices , it is more important than ever that they receive the same priority.

According to recent data published by WEEE, only one in three of the most popular electronic and electrical gifts sold in Ireland are recycled. Only 33% of beauty products and end-of-life consumer electrical appliances – hair straighteners, razors, instant-print cameras, Bluetooth headphones and speakers have been diverted from landfills. This figure drops considerably to just under 10% for electronic toys, including game consoles, action figures, electric scooters and electric bicycles.

Leo Donovan noted in a recent report by the organization, “Many of these items can be repaired, reused or re-gifted, but if they can’t be sure to recycle them for free.” The message is to “bring it, not throw it away”.

In addition to the expected electronics and toys, don’t forget other WEEE-friendly items, including gas-discharge bulbs, fluorescent tubes and energy-saving bulbs, as well as rechargeable and single-use household batteries of all sorts. It is estimated that every Irish household has 4 unused or discarded electrical or battery-powered devices and it is time, as the Royal Society of Chemistry (UK) has said, to ‘mining this electronic waste rather than exploiting Earth “.

Judging by the response in my local town of Fermoy, where the huge designated parking cages are full of desktop computers and microwaves emptied early in the morning – oddly exciting recycling days are a fantastic gift for any local community . The band encourages us to be “E-Detectives” with their Follow-The-Lead campaign.

EU data shows that smartphones – (totally wrecked or obsolete, mundane, unsellable) are one of the most oddly hoarded items placed fondly in “that” drawer by consumers. Check the make and model, and make sure it’s not a rarefied €1000 Mobira Senator before recycling it (easy to do with the multiple phone geek guides in brick online, including the popular mobilephonehistory.co.uk). To extend their work role, go on work phones to friends or family. Think about it, there are 24 kg of gold, 16,000 kg of copper, 350 kg of silver and 14 kg of palladium embedded in a million cell phones.

In addition to being operationally defective, some large devices are outdated and potentially dangerous in terms of condition and technical characteristics. There is no price for having the oldest washer/dryer in the county. Antique kilowatt monsters aside, recall notices for younger units come and go in print and online, largely unseen. There are potentially tens of thousands of faulty washing machines, dryers and other large and small appliances on the market. 11,000 washing machines were recalled by Hotpoint and Indesit in the UK and Ireland in 2019/2020 alone. Cooling. Many included a dangerous door locking mechanism, which – “in very rare cases may overheat, which, depending on product specifications, may present a fire hazard”.

Vintage items such as 1940s fans should be checked and certified safe by a RECI licensed electrician before plugging the unit into the home. Old wiring and failed components could be a fire hazard.

In 2017, my own elderly parents lost their home to a relatively new dryer with a poorly designed lint catcher that was on a recall list. Connecting a pinch of lint in the filter to the heating element, the machine exploded, starting a fire that left their home a charred shell. The brand involved accepted responsibility after a contentious investigation – but the bean counters couldn’t re-materialize half a century of sentimental items with a check. For ultimate peace of mind, go to the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) and search for modern products of a wide variety recalled via the European database.

The CCPC also manages Ireland’s contribution to the EU’s Rapid Product Safety Alert Recall System (RAPEX). Sent to the manufacturer’s website, check your major appliances by model number. For laundry appliances, this unique number can be found either on the back of your washing machine or in the door recess.

If you’re wondering when to hand over an old electrical appliance, such as a laptop or even a dishwasher, it’s time to explore why you’re hanging onto it and whether it’s actually operational and completely safe. You can update the hardware on many computers, but one of the easiest things to do with broken major appliances is to determine the likely cost of the repair. We then compare that to the price of a newer model with a better energy efficiency spec that will save you money every time it runs. It’s hard to find a repairman who will come to your house for less than €50, and I don’t blame them.

When you replace a similar device with a high street retailer, as a member of the WEEE initiative, they must take your old device and dispose of it appropriately when offered. In this case, the saga is over. Of course, you don’t have to give the item away, but would you like to stand above the perfect safety of a staged used device in another family’s home. Oh good? If the item just doesn’t suit your lifestyle and is lightly used and even still under warranty, that’s another matter. Otherwise, the rare earth metals contained in this device could be recovered by recycling.

With vintage products falling decades outside of all safety protocols and standards, the responsibility to ensure they are safe is yours. Some retro-leaning companies repair and restore rooms to modern safety specifications, such as adding new fabric wiring to mid-century pendant lighting. Details and certification of these changes shall be provided voluntarily upon request. Otherwise, with charity shops and second-hand furniture stores, there’s a very good reason why many second-hand outlets don’t accept electrical appliances – hair dryers, kettles, vacuum cleaners, etc. – anything. Salespeople are nervous. There is a security question mark regarding the lighthearted handing over of these goods to the counter. You can ask buyers to have the part checked by a sparks professional – but will they really?

I’m not saying you shouldn’t buy this amazing 1940s industrial fan, but if you’re in for something used, vintage, or downright old that’s powered – whether it’s a lava lamp or a vintage stereo , it should be checked carefully by a qualified RECI electrician before connection. Many of these parts stay in the outlet all day. Without being rewired and checked for vital components, they could turn your home into a nostalgic memory when you’re away or heaven forbid when you’re sleeping in your bed.

Use the interactive WEEE map to find your nearest local recycling center, public collection day, electricity retailer and bulb exchange shop. Used portable batteries can be recycled at your local newsagent.