How to breathe new life into unwanted technology – and why you should

Most of us have a drawer of shame somewhere at home – a dusty cave filled with outdated phones, tablets, dongles and gadgets that were once our pride and joy. It seems wasteful to throw them away, but realistically we know they will never “come in handy”.

If we let them go, our old devices that could have the latest iOS update could be given a new, shiny life, and we could really make a difference in the hands of someone who needs them.

With the help of Vodafone’s Great British Tech Appeal, an initiative which collects second-hand phones, tablets and laptops, we look behind the scenes of donated devices and how they can help bridge the digital divide.

Reduce, reuse… rethink?

It’s hard to fathom the amount of waste generated by the relentless new-newer-newest cycle of mobile technology, even on this tiny island. In fact, the islet is one of the worst offenders, according to figures released this year by the UN Global e-Waste Monitor (pdf).

“Around 1.5 million people in the UK don’t own a smartphone, tablet or laptop,” says Helen Milner, group director of the Good Things Foundation, a partner of the Great British Tech Appeal. “Yet the UK is the second-largest producer of e-waste per capita in the world.”

In other words, while the UK is being flooded with expensive gadgets, we are not passing them on when we are done with the millions of people – yes, even here, even now – who are cut off from the digital revolution. If we are not hoarding them, we are simply throwing them away.

Milner says: “Donating is a great way to extend the use of devices while helping those who need it most. Every donation of devices will make a huge difference to those on the wrong side of the digital divide.”


According to Ofcom, 28% of households struggle to afford a communications service. And while some have probably chosen not to, many more want to be online just as much as the rest of us – they just don’t have the option.

It’s not just the elderly that we’re talking about here: last year’s Ofcom report Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes (pdf) found that 3% of households with children under 18 had no access to the internet at home. Children’s charity Barnardo’s adds that the problem is preventing large numbers of the young people it supports from contacting their key workers.

Moving forward

Barnardo’s is one of the beneficiaries of the Great British Tech Appeal, a national campaign encouraging us to clear out our old, unused devices and do some good.

Launched in 2020, the campaign received over 1,000 unwanted devices in its first year and has since donated over 13,000 to charity. Any smartphone or tablet can be donated as long as it is in working order and usable.

While the numbers are impressive, there’s still an incredibly long way to go. According to a report from last December, UK households are holding on to around 21 million discarded mobile phones – the most commonly hoarded item. So what makes us so reluctant to pass them on?

Sweeping our slates clean

One of the big things that holds us back from recycling our tech is how complicated the whole thing can seem. Different areas of the UK have different rules, with some tips and retailers accepting old gadgets for reuse while others won’t, and some types of electronics seem difficult to give away.

But increasing awareness and the availability of programs like Vodafone’s are starting to address the complexity, provided people can overcome one last hurdle.

Like most recycling initiatives, the Great British Tech Appeal recommends resetting your phone to factory settings, removing your SIM and memory cards, and disabling any “Find My Phone” services you have set up. However, any device that receives the call will have its data wiped, just in case. It will then be packaged up with a cable, charger, and six months of connectivity, and placed in the hands of someone who really needs it.

Old phone, new start

As part of its wider campaign to close the digital divide, Vodafone has so far provided free connectivity, devices and digital training to 2.6 million people and businesses. Among those who have benefited from phones and laptops donated through the Great British Tech Appeal are refugees, people at risk of abuse and children in care.

During the Covid pandemic, these gadgets have been a lifeline. “At the start of the pandemic, some children in care weren’t able to see their biological families,” says Tony Sleight, a development manager for Barnardo’s. “We wanted to find a way to enable young people to stay in touch with parents and siblings while they weren’t able to meet in person.

“Vodafone donated mobile phones, tablets and most importantly SIM cards with data services. These donations were a real lifeline for families at this critical time. Vodafone’s donations – particularly the pre-loaded data SIM cards – were the difference between young people not seeing their families and allowing them to have a quality, safe time to share their updates and news during what was an extremely challenging time.”

Answer the call

Cleaning up is a fun way to spend a rainy weekend. And knowing that your old iPhone can help some of the most underprivileged people in the country reconnect with their loved ones is a strong argument.

The process of donating to the Great British Tech Appeal is designed to be as hassle-free as possible: you complete a short online form, then receive donation instructions by email. You then package your device in your own packaging and send it off for free.

Where possible, devices are rehomed, but devices that can’t be reused are dismantled for parts or to be recycled. There is no limit to the number of gadgets you can dispose of. You can even book a mass collection for your workplace if you’ve upgraded your corporate devices, and there’s the added security of Certified Erase for corporate devices.

Nicki Lyons, Chief Corporate Affairs and Sustainability Officer at Vodafone UK, said: “At Vodafone, we’re committed to ensuring no one is left behind. We’ve provided 2.6 million people and businesses with free connectivity, devices, access to social tariffs and digital training to date, and we’re committed to reaching 4 million people by the end of 2025.”

Find out more about Vodafone’s commitment to help 4 million people and businesses bridge the digital divide

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