In the past, we wrote about how smartphones and their cases are being recycled in separate articles for our "How it's recycled" series. Now it's time we talk about smartphone chargers and data cables, as well as adapters that come included with a laptop and even wearables, in certain scenarios.

The good news about modern day chargers and devices is that often times, you can pick a single wall plug for most of your devices. Powerful options that offer upwards of 65W of power can offer plenty of charging capabilities to juice a phone, a laptop, a power bank and so on.

The drawback is that until a few years ago, this was not the case and every device came with its own power adapter that was tailored to that specific device. This led to the accumulation of power plugs in people's homes, contributing to the risk e-waste contamination.

What are cables and chargers made from

Just like your smartphone and laptop, wall adapters are made of various materials, all of which can be recovered and reused in future devices or products, if dismantled and recycled correctly.

Among the materials found in a wall adapter, whether it's made for your phone or laptop, you can find things like aluminum, plastic, a charger module and copper, lots of copper. Copper is also found in all data cables for phones, laptops and other electronics, as it is a very good conductor, while also being more flexible and elastic when compared to aluminum. This is why it remained the conductor of choice in many electronics.

Cables, on the other hand, are simpler products, but still contain important materials. Usually, data and charging cables are made from three materials, TPE (thermoplastic elastomer), PVC (polyvinyl chloride), as well as woven nylon (as it is the case for the cables included with Apples latest iPhone 15s and MacBooks equipped with the MagSafe 3 connector).

TPE and PVC cables are made from a form of plastic material, although PVC dropped out of fashion lately, due to the fact that newer TPE proved to be more elastic and resistant to bending and stretching, a crucial property for a cable that you might take with you everywhere. Both are non-flammable and resistant to weather changes, such as cold and hot weather.

Woven nylon is better than the plastic alternatives in all ways, but for two: first, it's prone to ignition, if held close to a heat source and it can be more expensive.

How are cables and chargers recycled

Sending cables and chargers for recycling is very easy for consumers these days, as most electronics stores will have special containers where they can collect old and unused wall plugs and cables, no matter what device they are made for.

As far as the recycling process goes, it is fairly straightforward. Cables and chargers first get dismantled by professionals, using specialized equipment, in order to separate all different components and materials, so that they don't get contaminated. That's because plastic or textile fibers can't be processed together with metal, for example.

After they are separated, the materials can be recycled with the help of processes that are designed specifically for them. We covered in the past how metals and plastics are recycled, so won't go into details here, but the idea is that chargers and cables are made from various types of valuable materials that can be repurposed for manufacturing future products.

For cables, the process is a little simpler, since beneath the surface material, plastic or textile-based, lays the copper wire, so separation shouldn't take too long. One important mention is that wires come with a single line of copper that is covered by an insulator, while cables are made from multiple wires, each separated individually. So, technically, cables are more valuable, since they contain more copper for the same length.

As a bonus, wireless chargers can be recycled using the same processes, as they contain mostly the same materials, with some of them adding magnets for stronger or better attachments, such as MagSafe chargers. But otherwise, they still contain thermoplastic materials, as well as circuit boards and copper for the inductive coil.

Why we should recycle cables and chargers

It's important to recycle old electronic accessories, as they can be a great threat to the environment if they get into the ecosystems. Some charging adapters have their circuit boards and transformers made from heavy metals, such as lead and cadmium, which are even more dangerous if they reach the environment.

Additionally, if you don't use these products for a long time and let them rest in a drawer for multiple years at a time, they can decompose and create potential hazards in your own home. As it is the case with all recyclable materials and products, processing existing raw materials is cheaper, easier and less resource-intensive on the planet, as mining copper alone has a great adverse effect on the planet and local communities.

If you're looking for sustainable, planet-friendly chargers and cables you can check Tellur's lineup of wheat-fiber made wall plugs and cables, which now also include mice, keyboards and headphones. While you're at it, also check our long-term review for these accessories and find out why we liked them so much and why I continue to use them to this day.