Old gadgets are worth a fortune

But are we throwing away money – and a chance to be green? Tom Bawden finds out

Britons are throwing away a fortune by failing to realise how much their old gadgets are worth, according to new research which shows that more than 17 million devices worth a total of £762m are needlessly binned each year.

One in three adults sends a broken or functioning mobile phone, MP3 music player, satnav, games console or digital camera straight to landfill each year, according to mobile phone operator O2 – but the same items would fetch an average of £43.54 if they were taken to one of the growing number of recycling centres springing up across the country.

Although some electronic gadgets contain hazardous contaminants such as lead and cadmium, it is not illegal to send them to landfill. However, against a backdrop of near record – and rising – commodity prices and growing environmental awareness, the pressure is on politicians, companies and consumers to recycle more of their discarded gadgets.

Sainsbury's, Boots, Asda and Royal Mail are among the companies that pay for used mobiles, satnavs, game consoles, digital cameras and MP3 players, as long as they are in reasonable condition. Tesco offers a more comprehensive service, paying cash for 3,000 different products including kettles, toasters, irons and flat screen televisions – although it pays in loyalty points rather than cash.

Susanne Baker, senior policy advisor on climate change at EEF, the association representing British manufacturers, said throwing away electronic gadgets represented a huge waste. "Electronic equipment in particular is rich with materials which are in high demand but scarce supply. We know many manufacturers are worried about securing stable supplies of these materials at the right price," she said.

Jonathan Porritt, founder and chairman of Forum for the Future, a charity dedicated to sustainable business, added: "In such difficult times, with austerity the order of the day, sustainability keeps on delivering real benefits for customers, communities and shareholders."

The research is the latest example of how Britain is failing to take advantage of the opportunities to recycle valuable materials. Last month, it emerged that the country is exporting 15 million tonnes of industrial waste a year – about half of it valuable scrap metal – because it doesn't have sufficient facilities to recycle them. The waste exports are so large that they make up a sixth of Britain's total exports by volume.

O2 will today pledge to introduce a far-reaching set of measures to make its business more sustainable. These include a pledge to halve the CO2 emissions of its network and to help reduce the volume of carbon emitted by itself and its customers by 4 million tonnes a year. The company is also considering expanding the range of electronic gadgets its recycling centres will buy to include laptops, tablets and speakers.

Cashing in: What are they worth?

Where do I recycle?

Tesco Extra: You can take your gadget to your local branch of Tesco Extra or send it to the retailer in return for Clubcard loyalty points. tescoelectricaltradein.com


Asda: Post your damaged or fully-functioning gadget to the supermarket and receive cash (in the form of a cheque). tradein.asda.com


Boots: You can post unwanted but functioning electronic gadgets in to Boots and receive Advantage Card loyalty points. bootsrecycle.com/consumer/


Sainsbury's: Send your working item into the supermarket chain and receive a cheque. sainsburysrecycle.com/HowItWorks.aspx


O2 Recycle: Post your working or broken item to an 02 retail outlet or post it to the company and receive cash. o2recycle.co.uk


Local authority: The schemes tend to vary across the country. To find out how it works near you, try http://local.direct.gov.uk/LDGRedirect/index.jsp?LGSL=851&LGIL=8