Recycling your old appliances

You’ve picked up brand new, energy efficient, feature-filled home appliances, maybe from one of our kitchen auctions. Now, what will you do with the old stuff?
The state of appliance recycling in Australia is pretty good, but far from the best anywhere. What becomes of recycled appliances, especially refrigerators and freezers, may surprise you.

Scrap Metal
Scrap Metal

The City of Melbourne is there to help

The Melbourne city waste management team actually offers you some pretty good options, including an opportunity to donate your old appliances to charity. They also provide some shortcuts to places where you can put your appliances up for sale.

You might be able to take your old appliances to the dump, but you can’t do that if the appliance you need to dispose of has refrigerants. Air conditioners, freezers and refrigerators all have a reservoir of refrigerants that should be disposed of by a professional in a process known as de-gassing. If the appliances use newer refrigerants, they can be re-captured and used in a new appliance. If it’s an old unit, the refrigerants are ozone-depleting and need to be disposed of properly.

It’s also worth noting that Melbourne has some of the highest tipping fees in Australia.

Potential for hazardous waste

It’s not just refrigerants that may be considered hazardous waste. Although we generally think of televisions, cell phones and computers as containing hazardous metals, all appliances have them. Trace metals like mercury, cadmium and lead are found in circuit boards, brominated compounds may have been added to the machines as a fire retardant, and in some cases, there may be PCBs in capacitors and transformers. Compressors use oil.

Disposal of TVs and computers are covered under special regulations set out by the National Environment Ministry, but the rules are less restrictive for appliances. Nevertheless, 775,000 refrigerators and 550,000 air conditioners in Australia are disposed of every year, and they add an estimated one tonne of mercury, eight tonnes of cadmium and 100 tonnes of lead to our environment.

How appliances are recycled

The most common method of disposal is kerbside collection. Some appliances will be scavenged from the kerb and re-used. If not, the machine will be “shredded” by scrap metal dealers. This is exactly what it sounds like. The machine is chewed up into pieces and melted down for scrap.

There is a special problem with refrigerators and freezers because of the amount of plastic they contain. Unlike the European Union, there is no requirement in Australia that the plastics be separated from the metal and recycled, so often the plastics just end up in a landfill. The Environment Ministry is very aware of this and even commissioned a study looking at the recycling procedures for freezers, cheap fridges and air conditioners, trying to find ways to improve the system.

For now, you can arrange for kerbside collection, bring the old appliances to the dump or donate or sell them if they’re in good condition.

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