We all know them, we all use them, we all love them. But what happens when your favorite appliance stops working? What do YOU do when your freezer doesn’t freeze, your toaster doesn’t toast, your washer doesn’t wash? You have several options for appliance recycling, some of them much less environmentally sound than others.
Appliance Recycling: What Happens When…
…you throw them away.
When you see abandoned appliances lying on the curb, waiting to be picked up by the dump truck, their final resting place in landfill. When appliances are improperly disposed of in a landfill they take up a lot of space, increasing the size of the landfill. Additionally, because appliances are not biodegradable and some contain hazardous materials like CFC’s,mercury, and lead they begin to contribute significantly to soil contamination and degradation.
Thankfully, though, the majority of appliances (about 80%!) are recycled because of the high value of components that make up appliances. Many states also have landfill bans that make it very difficult to just dump an appliance into a landfill without recovering a great deal of the material.
… you reuse them:
Reusing is generally not an option for appliances that have significant issues. Often, replacement parts are expensive or hard to find. and it’s a tough call to figure out how much money to invest in an appliance that might break again soon. But if your appliance still works, it is best to try and donate it to someone who can use it. There are a number of charities like the Salvation Army and Habitat for Humanity that will gladly accept old working appliances and donate them to someone in need.
…you recycle them:
Appliance recycling is the most popular option when it comes to dealing with broken appliances. According to the Steel Recycling Institute appliances are by definition “systems of mechanical and electrical components encased in steel shells or bodies.” In fact, most appliances are made up of at least 60% steel and this steel is recyclable. The steel used in appliances is made of at least 25% recycled steel – this means all appliances contain recycled steel which can then be recycled again.
In addition to steel, materials in appliances like glass, plastic, refrigerants, oils and other metals can be salvaged and reused. Some appliances also contain CFC’s and PCB’s, both of which are toxic and must be recovered by trained technicians using EPA-certified equipment and then safely disposed of.
After collection, appliances are processed – they are taken apart into individual components (copper tubing, wiring, motors, compressors) which can then be recycled separately. Once various components are removed the leftover metal gets sent to a metal shredding facility. At these facilities metals are compressed into fist-sized scrap pieces after which they are placed on conveyor belts and magnets are used to separate the iron and steel from other metals. From here, the scrap metal is sent to mills where it is converted to steel (this process uses 74% less energy than making steel from virgin iron ore – neat!)
…you recycle with GreenCitizen:
If you live in the Bay area you can recycle your appliances responsibly with GreenCitizen. When you bring an appliance to one of our drop-off centers, we will take it back to our headquarters in Burlingame, where it gets sorted along with the rest of the donated E-waste.
From there, all appliances are taken to a single vendor, Onsite Electronics, located in Stockton, CA about 86 miles from San Francisco. Onsite Electronics is a CA Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) Certified Recycler. This means there are technicians on site that are able to specially handle hazardous materials found in appliances. Once appliances are sent here they undergo the same basic recycling process (described above).
Appliance recycling is just one of the categories of e-waste recycling that GreenCitizen will accept for free at any of our drop-off centers. GreenCitizen takes anything that plugs in or runs on battery, and offers hard drive destruction and paper-shredding services. We refurbish and reuse anything that we can and recycle the rest, all within 150 miles of the Bay area!
Other great resources for more appliance recycling info!