You might not know it, but you've got something very special in your home that could be worth money and could even save the world. No, it's not that lottery ticket you haven't checked yet -- it's your old technology.
All those gadgets and gizmos you've collected over the years that are sitting unused in the corner of a room or collecting dust in your garage are actually worth taking out of storage. Whether you sell them, recycle them, give them to charity, upgrade them or reuse them, there's value in them yet -- and over the next nine pages we'll tell you how to get the most out of them.
Even the European Commission has got in on the action, setting up something called the WEEE directive, which came into effect in the UK earlier this year. The WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) directive aims to help the environment by forcing electronic and electrical manufacturers and importers to take responsibility for treating and recycling their products when they're no longer wanted.
According to a spokesman for the Department of Business, "Electrical waste is a huge challenge, with 2m tonnes produced in the UK last year alone -- enough to fill the Wembley Stadium six times over."
The majority of electronic waste goes to landfill and seriously affects our environment -- particularly because most of the components that make up these products are toxic. The WEEE directive gives you the option of free return of old products, either in-store, through collection or at local amenity sites, but there's no obligation on you.
You don't have to get involved, but why throw your old stuff into a bin, when you can easily do something positive and even financially rewarding with it? Let's find out how.
One of the best ways to get money out of your second-hand technology is to sell it online. Here are a few tips on how to get the most money for your used products.
When selling on eBay, make sure to give as much information about the product you're intending on selling, including any problems with it. Give it a good clean and take the best possible picture of it.
When setting your price, do research on similar products for sale, paying particular attention to pricing -- be realistic. eBay allows you to set a reserve, but this might deter potential bidders. You want to make sure there's as much incentive to bid on your item as possible, including things like free posting and packaging.
Another tip is to end your auction on Friday afternoons or Sunday evenings, when many people are scouring eBay for a good deal after a long week.
Carry out all transactions via a PayPal account. Aside from offering the buyer and yourself protection, it also gives a better impression and creates a sense of trustworthiness. Be warned, many buyers are trying to scam you, so if something doesn't sound right then cancel the transaction.
Make sure to send your goods to the buyer as quickly as possible and package everything well so it doesn't break in transit. Good customer service means good feedback and in turn more trust from future buyers. For more information visit eBay's selling guide here.
Amazon's marketplace also lets you sell second-hand goods at a set price. But unless you're a Pro Merchant, you have to sell something that's already listed on Amazon and you can't add your own image, unless the product is unique.
Price, condition and seller information are all you get to entice the buyer, so creating the right balance is important. As Amazon recommends, it's always worth pricing your product below the Amazon price unless it's rare or a collectible.
As with eBay, good customer service is key because the higher your seller rating, the more likely you'll be chosen over someone else with a similar product.
Gumtree is like an online car boot sale. It started off as a place to advertise rooms and flats to let but has gradually developed into a we-sell-everything kind of site. It's now owned by eBay. What's great about it is it's focussed on individual sellers, rather than shops or professional traders.
It's very simple and straightforward to post an ad and you can upload photos of what you want to sell too. As with eBay, it's important to take good shots, preferably on a simple background such as a table or the floor.
Be as informative as possible about the product, but don't flood the page with information as reading massive amounts of text becomes tedious.
As with eBay, offering cheap postage and packaging is a good incentive. There's no user-rating system, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't play nice. Good customer service should always be valued.
Make sure to carry out transactions over a system such as PayPal, or alternatively organise to do the exchange in person, preferably in a public place.
Car boot sales
If you'd rather see the person you're selling to, the best place to do it is at a car boot sale. There are no delivery charges and you get the cash straight away.
Try to present your products as well as possible. The cleaner and shinier something is, the more likely someone will buy it, so brush off any dust and polish those surfaces.
Next up, try to make sure you have all the bits and pieces that came with the original device. If you're selling an old TV, for example, see if you can find the remote that came with it.
Keep in mind that people will be coming to haggle with you, so don't be afraid to price your products a little higher than you would online.
Finally, get out there and enjoy it, car boot sales are a great day out and a happy-looking sales person is more likely to attract customers than a grumpy one.
For more information about car boot sales near you, have a look at carbootjunction.com.
Selling your old stuff can be a hassle -- and it might not be worth anything -- so if you just want it out of the house, look into recycling.
Local council recycling sites
A good place to start is your local recycling site. You can find the nearest recycling centre using sites such as Recycle Now and Recycle More, or by calling up your local council.
Depending on the size of the centre, it will offer different solutions and only let you recycle certain items, so it's worth finding out what they'll take before you go.
Unlike selling an item, you won't need to clean it, but it's worth making sure you separate any parts that can be recycled separately, such as CDs, printer cartridges, power adaptors and anything else that has its own recycling section at the site.
If you're going to take loads of stuff, try to go at a less busy time -- Saturday mornings are very popular.
If you don't have a car, you can ring your council up and get them to collect old goods from your home -- under the WEEE directive, they have to offer this service -- but you might be charged.
If selling your old TV, mobile phone or MP3 player isn't practical, you can always recycle it in a more direct fashion by giving it away to someone else. Freecycle lets you do just that and it's very easy to use.
All you do is visit Freecycle.org, search for the nearest group to where you live and join it. Once you've joined, you can advertise practically anything on it, under the condition that it's completely free.
Make sure to list as much detail about the product as possible without going overboard. Be careful about how much personal information you put down and try to limit it to an email address or a phone number until you're certain someone is legitimately interested.
Once someone has replied to your post you can let them know where to collect the item from. You can arrange for someone to collect the item from your house or if you'd rather they don't know where you live, a busy and well-known public place will do.
If you own a Dell PC, no matter how old it is, Dell will take it off your hands and recycle it. If you buy a new Dell PC, Dell will take away your old one away, no matter what brand it is or how old it is.
According to Dell's recycling guidelines, you must remove any personal data from your system and use sturdy corrugated cardboard boxes. A courier will collect the PC on a date you agree with Dell.
Dell also has a service for dealing with old ink cartridges and toner. For more information about that and recycling with Dell in general, click here.
There are over 80 million old mobile phones in the UK and most people leave them in a drawer or worse still, chuck them in the bin. But Fonebak will take your broken mobile phone and recycle every last component.
According to Fonebak, batteries are sent to a specialist in France where materials are extracted and used in items such as power tools, saucepans, pharmaceuticals, new batteries, traffic cones, buckets and furniture.
Handsets are recycled using waste-to-energy incineration. The energy created during this process is used to heat the local village with almost zero emissions.
If you want to send a phone to Fonebak there are over 10,000 free collection points at retailers across Europe (click here for more details), or you can send it to Fonebak directly via a freepost envelope that you should be able to get from its listed partners.
While recycling your old technology is helpful to the environment, giving it to charity can be just as easy and efficient, and it can help other people.
Computer Aid International
One of the largest and most reputable IT charity organisations in the UK, Computer Aid International takes donated PCs, completely wipes them clean of any data and then sends them for re-use in schools and communities in the developing world.
You can donate your PC directly to its workshop in North London or it can arrange collection on your behalf from any address in the UK at a cost of £12.95 per box.
Before donating your PC you must make sure it matches the specifications set out by Computer Aid. Unless modified, most systems capable of running Windows 2000 or later will be acceptable. Wherever possible, cabinet fittings should be unlocked and BIOS/hard disk passwords disabled.
Monitors should be RGB (Colour VGA), 15 or 17 inches, and manufactured since 2000. Computer Aid is also in need of power cables, keyboards and mice among other peripherals listed here.
Aside from recycling a broken phone's raw materials, Fonebak also reuses working phones and sends them to developing countries. Handsets are thoroughly tested and refurbished, making them look like new.
The phones are sent to emerging markets in Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa, where the cost of a new phone is often prohibitively expensive, and landlines are few and far between.
In order to make sure that refurbished phones are properly dealt with at the end of their life, Fonebak has developed the World Recycling Support Programme to help emerging markets set up recycling and reuse initiatives.
You can hand in your old phone to one of Fonebak's partners or send it to a freepost address. For more information click here.
If you'd rather send your old technology closer to home there are plenty of people in the UK who need second-hand equipment.
There are several directory-style sites you can search for local organisations, including itforcharities.co.uk and reuze.co.uk, among others. Most of these organisations deal with PCs, but there are organisations that reuse mobile phones and other devices.
High street charity shops
It's a misconception that charity shops take anything, particularly when it comes to electrical and electronic devices. It's always a good idea to phone up your local charity shop to find out what they take.
Oxfam has a few shops that will take electrical items, but because they have to be tested and they tend to become obsolete very quickly, Oxfam doesn't actively encourage taking in old computers and TVs.
It will take mobile phones and printer cartridges, however. These are sent off to be recycled and the proceeds used to fund projects elsewhere. You can either get a freepost envelope or take your handsets directly to a high street shop. Oxfam also accepts CDs, DVDs and VHS tapes.
Cancer Research doesn't take any technology at all, but it will take DVDs, CDs and videos. This is representative of most charity shops.
According to almost every charity we spoke to, the worst thing you can do is leave bagfuls of unwanted old technology at their doorstep, because they simply can't sell it without testing it first and most don't have the facilities to do that.
Of course, you don't have to sell, recycle or give your old electrical items away: you could upgrade them and give them a new lease of life.
Upgrading a computer can be very rewarding, but it will involve some and isn't always a straightforward job. It's usually not worth investing much money in an old machine, but there are some relatively cheap components worth thinking about upgrading.
If your old machine runs on Windows, before you upgrade anything, try running the defragmentation and error-checking tool, and an antivirus and spyware program. Some of the performance-boosting downloads in our
Adding more RAM can significantly improve your computer's performance. But before you go and buy any old RAM, check how much your computer already has, what type it supports and how much RAM your motherboard can fully support. You can check this using Crucial's system scanner, which is free and easy to use.
If your old hard drive is full of stuff you don't want to delete, you could install a secondary hard drive or invest in an external one.
If you're adding a new internal drive, make sure there's a free bay and if possible leave a gap between the two drives for ventilation.
Modern 3D games and media-centric applications require capable graphics cards, so upgrading your old graphics card can unleash a whole lot of fun. Certain motherboards only accept certain graphics cards, so you need to find out what kind of motherboard you have.
Beyond a graphics card you're looking at upgrading your processor and possibly even your motherboard, which can work out more costly than buying a brand-new computer. So before you go that far, make sure you're not better off recycling or giving your old computer to charity.
Some new dSLRs support old lenses, which is particularly useful if you've bought expensive telephoto lenses for your old camera. The best way to check if a camera is backwards-compatible is either to read one of our reviews or take the lens with you to a shop before you buy your new camera.
Old MP3 players
Getting a new case or decorating your old MP3 player is one way of jazzing it up, but if you've got an that's at the end of its days, you might think about using it as a portable hard drive. Many MP3 players double up as mass storage devices you can use to backup or transfer files.
Old mobile phones
Mobile phones can be upgraded in a variety of ways, including buying a new case, downloading a new ringtone or game, or most importantly buying a new battery. An old mobile phone can also make a good gift for a child or elderly relative, who's unlikely to care that its megapixel count isn't up to much. You could even get a pay as you go SIM card if the person you're giving it to doesn't have a SIM at all.
If you really can't part with your old technology, you could always turn it into something else. A little imagination and some adventurous handiwork can help you reuse your old kit in new and useful ways.
A solid metal PC case is a surprisingly reusable item. If you've got two old PC cases of the same height, for example, you could use them as table stands for a coffee table. Alternatively, you could take all the components out of a metal case and turn it into a makeshift barbeque.
Old bits of circuitry and colourful wires can be interesting to look at and worthy of hanging on a wall, particularly if you get a nice glass fronted frame. CDs can be hung somewhere around the house or garden and act like mirrors reflecting light around a room like a disco ball -- they make great scarecrow accessories if you have a veg garden.
An old PC can be turned into a media server that stores all of your digital content, such as music, photos and videos. Via a wireless connection you can access all your media from anywhere in your home. You'll need a fair amount of hard drive space, so think about buying a secondary drive if your primary one is small, and it's best if the computer runs Windows XP.