How ERI Recycles White Goods
What happens when you recycle appliances (white goods) at ERI? After the components are dismantled, the remaining parts go into giant shredders. The remaining small pieces are sorted by glass, plastic, metal, wood, etc. Wood can be incinerated for energy. Plastic is sorted by type and melted to make new items.
Metals are separated by the type of metal. Copper, aluminum, and steel are just some of the metals you’ll find in household appliances. Glass is melted down to make new glass items.
Sometimes, the easiest way to do this involves a combination of hand sorting and mechanical sorting. Glass sinks in water, while plastic floats. Magnets can pick up metal scraps and modern recycling machinery can take it farther than that.
Not every state mandates recycling of white goods. Only about half do, but that doesn’t mean you can throw out items that require electricity to run. Back in the 1970s and 1980s, it may have been the norm for people to throw out entire ovens, TVs, and microwaves in dumps. That doesn’t mean it was ever okay.
The metals, plastics, and coatings on TVs and other white goods can leach into groundwater and soil and cause health issues and pollute the environment. It may not have been known at the time, but these practices are incredibly harmful.
At an old military base, appliances and scrap wood were tossed into the base landfill and incinerated by military personnel. Chemical cleaners and substances were readily poured down drains into the base’s septic tanks where corrosion would create leaks. About half of all the people who’d lived on this base at some point had been diagnosed with rare blood cancers as adults.
Even if your state doesn’t mandate electronics recycling, the federal government does have laws regarding hazardous waste. Cathode ray tubes (CRTs) from a TV cannot be disposed of in a landfill. Refrigerators are also concerning. When you properly recycle a TV, you’re lowering the release of items like PCBs and mercury.
Every five refrigerators that are properly recycled save the equivalent one home’s carbon dioxide emissions for an entire year. Refrigerators and freezer made before 1995 often contain CFC refrigerants. They also have PCBs. ACs and dehumidifiers made before 2010 contain HCFCs. Both impact the ozone layer.
The Responsible Appliance Disposal Program disposed of 890,473 refrigerant-containing appliances in 2011, preventing 105.7 million pounds of ferrous metals, 17.5 million pounds of non-ferrous metals, 18.7 million pounds of plastic and 2.6 million pounds of glass from entering landfills. (source: RAD Annual Report)
The EPA estimates that 9.4 million refrigerators and freezers, 6.3 million window air-conditioning units, and nearly 964,000 dehumidifiers were disposed of in the U.S. in 2011. (source: RAD Annual Report)