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upcycling your old tech gadgets

Upcycling Old Gadgets: How to Re-use Your Dated Tech

Harry Stewart
According to the World Health Organisation, humans discarded 53 million tonnes of e-waste in 2019, only 17% of which was recycled. The issue will only worsen, with the global e-waste tally ballooning by 21% every five years.
While governments and companies must do more to mitigate the carnage, there’s plenty you, the everyday consumer, can do too. One of those is upcycling your old gadgets, which we’ll show you how to do in this post.

Understanding e-waste

Before we present our nifty upcycling ideas, let’s examine the global e-waste conundrum.
E-waste refers to any broken or unwanted device featuring electronic components, such as circuit boards, cables, plugs, and cords. The most common e-waste culprits include TVs, computers, household appliances, and mobile phones. Per capita, Britain is one of the world’s worst e-waste-creators.
Many computers and smartphones contain rare metals (think gold, silver, platinum, and cobalt) that are expensive and environmentally harmful to extract. Once these old devices end up in landfills, our finite supply diminishes, and mining companies must dig deeper to source more.
Most e-waste also contains harmful heavy metals like mercury, lead, and cadmium, as well as hazardous chemicals like flame retardants. When these poisonous elements seep into the soil and groundwater, they contaminate the environment and potentially harm our health.
Batteries are particularly problematic in landfills. As their delicate casings corrode, known carcinogens such as cadmium and nickel end up in our oceans and water supply. Gadgets with nonremovable batteries run on lithium, which can burn underground for years and ignite toxic garbage fires.

How to recycle e-waste in the UK

how to upcycle ewaste
As you can see, e-waste recycling is essential for every eco-conscious Briton. But how does one go about ditching their disused gadgets responsibly?
First up, remember that re-use always trumps recycling (we’ll explain why in the next section). See if you can repurpose your unwanted e-waste using one of our upcycling ideas. Failing that, consider donating or selling the disused device.
If repurposing your old tech isn’t viable, seek the closest e-waste recycling centre. Thankfully, you shouldn’t have to drive too far, as there are over 22,100 participants peppered throughout the UK. The Recycle Your Electronics and Recycle Now websites have a handy locator tool.
Some British councils collect e-waste directly from your doorstep. Restrictions apply, so don’t just dump your broken devices into the garbage bin. Check with your local council to see if they offer this service and learn how to use it.
The best tech manufacturers run eco-friendly initiatives to collect, repair, re-use, or recycle old devices. HP Planet Partners, for example, operates in 76 countries, including the UK. The program offers responsible end-of-use recycling services spanning ink and toner cartridges, computers and laptops, and office equipment like printers. HP typically sends repurposed or repaired devices to underserved communities in Britain and abroad.
For security-conscious organisations, HP has a pre-recycling sanitation service, which safely erases all stored data before dismantling each device. HP can even provide a fair market value quote on end-of-use PCs that retain some residual value.
These initiatives offer a more environmentally friendly alternative to standard e-waste recycling and help promote a circular, low-carbon economy.

The dark side of e-waste recycling

While recycling e-waste is better than sending it to landfills, the process isn’t without problems.
High British labour costs prompt recycling corporations to export large shipments of e-waste to developing countries in Asia and Africa, where salaries are much lower. Inadequate labour laws mean local workers, including children, may become exposed to hazardous materials as they sort through components.
The issue isn’t limited to worker safety. Inferior, low-cost disposal practices, such as open burning, increase global carbon emissions and allow harmful neurotoxicants to enter the atmosphere.

How to minimise e-waste

As there’s no perfect way to dispose of e-waste, your best bet is to reduce the amount you produce.
Do you need the latest model smartphone? Or does your current device fulfil your requirements? Don’t succumb to the hype by upgrading your tech with every new release.
Rather than purchasing a low-quality gadget requiring an upgrade soon, consider futureproofing your investment with a higher-quality device. When it comes time to upgrade, selling your old gadget delays its disposal by a few more years. Likewise, purchasing second-hand tech helps minimise e-waste.
A better alternative to regular e-waste recycling is returning your outdated gadgets to the manufacturer. A reputable company will repurpose their tech more sustainably.
Finally, you can upcycle tech to bypass e-waste recycling altogether and give the gadget a new lease on life.

Inspiring tech upcycling ideas

tech upcycling ideas
Now we’ve got a grip on the most pressing e-waste issues, we’ll present a handful of handy upcycling ideas. What is upcycling? The term means transforming an unwanted item (in this case, an electronic device) into something useful.

A smartphone alarm clock

Rather than tossing your outdated smartphone away, repurpose it into a dedicated bedside alarm clock. The alarm clocks of old have fallen out of favour as smartphones overtook this task, so many will appreciate the vintage tech vibes.
How to make it:
  • Position your device on a smartphone stand.
  • Plug the smartphone into a nearby power socket.
  • Install a dedicated alarm clock app, such as Alarm Clock for Me, or use your operating system’s pre-installed app.
  • Set your screen to remain on permanently if desired.
  • Enable voice commands to set or disarm your alarm clock from afar.

A smartphone security camera

You can also upcycle your old smartphone into a makeshift security camera to monitor a selected area remotely. Again, you must position it close to a power socket for prolonged use.
How to make it:
  • Place your smartphone so its rear camera (which has better resolution than the selfie snapper) points in the desired direction.
  • Plug the smartphone into a power socket.
  • Install and run a security camera app, such as Alfred.

A tablet digital photo frame

No need to toss that obsolete tablet. Even the most frustratingly slow device can have enough oomph to serve as a digital photo frame. While this upcycling trick is possible with a smartphone, the tablet is a better choice for its sizeable screen.
How to make it:
  • Position your tablet in the desired location using a tablet stand.
  • Plug the device into the mains power.
  • Create a looping slideshow of your favourite pics using the operating system’s built-in photo app or your preferred third-party software.
  • Set the screen to remain on permanently or switch off each evening to reduce power consumption.

A tablet video conferencing station

Remember when the Jetsons would gather around a “videophone” to chat face-to-face in real-time? You can do the same thing with a dedicated video call centre made from an upcycled tablet.
Older, slower tablets mightn’t have the processing power for silky-smooth calls. In this situation, consider going the photo frame route instead. Again, this idea works with a smartphone, though a roomier tablet is the superior choice.
How to make it:
  • Position your tablet in a suitable location with a tablet stand.
  • Plug the tablet into the mains.
  • Install and configure your favourite teleconferencing app, such as Zoom, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, FaceTime, or Skype.
  • Set the tablet screen to turn off while not in use or configure it to run as a digital photo frame between calls.

A tablet e-reader

Why purchase a brand-new Kindle when you can upcycle an old tablet into a dedicated e-reader?
Android and iOS versions of Kindle and Kobo support e-books and audiobooks. The downside is that you’ll have a backlit display that isn’t as kind to your eyes. Install a blue light filter to soothe your circadian rhythms come bedtime.
How to make it:
  • Remove any unnecessary programs from your tablet.
  • Install your favourite e-book and audiobook apps.
  • Activate the in-built blue light filter (or download and use a third-party app)
  • Place your upcycled e-reader by the bedside table.

A PC media centre

Got a massive media library and an old computer? One way of upcycling PCs is by plugging them into your TV as a makeshift media server.
While you could use an old-school open-source media player like VLC, many users prefer Plex. The free version automatically organises your haphazard collection and adds attractive cover art. Plex also incorporates several free and premium streaming services.
How to make it:
  • Position your computer close to the TV.
  • Plug the device into the mains.
  • Use an HDMI cable to connect your PC to your TV.
  • Copy your video and music collection onto the PC.
  • Use the media player app of your choice.
  • Set the computer to switch off when not in use to conserve power.

A TV aquarium

There’s nothing like watching unhurried fish swim in circles to help you relax after a long day. Although building and maintaining an aquarium is a tiresome and expensive endeavour, a virtual fish tank is free.
Transform your aquarium into a digital fireplace for warm, cosy vibes in winter. Of course, you can also use the display as a digital photo frame.
How to make it:
  • Position your old TV in a suitable location and plug it in.
  • Connect your TV to an upcycled computer or a USB thumb drive with an aquarium video.
  • Smart TVs can run a video straight off the internet
  • Play the video on a loop.


E-waste recycling goes a long way towards reducing the environmental impact of your outdated tech. Manufacturer-devised programs like HP Planet Partners provide an even more eco-friendly alternative.
Nonetheless, the best way to minimise your impact is by reducing the e-waste you create. Reconsider any unnecessary purchases and try the simple upcycling ideas outlined above.

About the Author

Harry Stewart is a Tech Takes contributor covering everything from how-to guides to laptop reviews.

Disclosure: Our site may get a share of revenue from the sale of the products featured on this page.


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