The Last Brush

My electric toothbrush of 4 years finally took its last brush. It had served me well, my filling-free mouth being proof. As a minimum two-brushes-per-day person I knew I needed to order a new toothbrush as soon as possible. But it dawned on me; how do I dispose of it ethically?

Discarded electric items, also referred to as e-waste,[1] is becoming a huge environmental problem. Pascal Leroy, director-general of the WEEE Forum, said:

“In Europe, 55% of all electrical waste is reported as officially collected and recycled: the rest is either still in people’s homes, amassed in landfill or has been illegally exported to other countries. The global figure for recycled e-waste is even more alarming: only about 17% is collected.”

These statistics are alarming as unfortunately, e-waste contains a plethora of toxic substances such as mercury[2], lead[3], cadmium, brominated flame retardants and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)[4]. When disposed of incorrectly, these substances pollute our air, soil and water and can cause infertility, brain damage and even death in exposed humans and animals.

Why not keep our electronics in the infamous miscellaneous draw at home?

The United Nations calculated that the total value of the materials within e-waste was worth ~USD64 Billion worldwide. This is because e-waste contains critical raw materials which can be reused, like gold, copper and palladium. If we were to recycle our old electronics, rather than send them to the landfill or store them at home, it could help us avoid mining for new materials which is resource-intensive, generally bad for the environment[5] and is rife with human rights abuses[6].

Ethical disposal

If your electronics still work but you no longer have a use for them, consider selling them on eBay or donating them to a local charity. It is always best to extend the items life for as long as possible before disposal – recycling should be viewed as an absolute last resort.

If your items no longer work, see if you can get them repaired. If that isn’t an option, use this government website (UK residents) to find your closest recycling centre. The website is easy to use; all you have to do is find the items you’re trying to recycle within the list provided and follow the instructions. It even has a ‘Find Your Nearest Recycling Point’ feature which will give you a list of recyclers near your location. For larger electronic goods such as televisions, check with your local council to see if they offer curbside pick-up. Retailers such as Currys and Argos also offer e-waste recycling programs.

If you’re interested in learning more about e-waste, I recommend reading these studies and watching the following short documentaries.

[1] Short for electronic waste



[4] Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) obliterate the world’s defensive ozone layer, which safeguards the earth from destructive bright (UV-B) beams produced from the sun. CFCs additionally warm the lower air of the earth changing the worldwide environment.




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