Major home appliances are made up of approximately 75 percent steel. The remaining materials include other metals such as aluminum, zinc and copper, as well as recyclable plastics and CFC refrigerants.

The typical life of most major home appliances is 10 to 18 years. The Appliance Recycling Information Center (ARIC) estimates that 55 million appliances will have been removed from service in 2004, and appliances are recycled at a rate of approximately 72 percent per year. (See link under “web resources,” below.)

Disposal and environmental impact

The majority of used major appliances are recycled or landfilled. Some are also reused through resale by organizations such as the Salvation Army. However, recycling is the most widely used option because of the value of the steel and other recyclable components. About 10 percent of the steel processed by the recycling industry comes from large appliances.

There are more than 11,000 appliance recycling locations throughout the United States. The U. S. EPA reports that the use of scrap instead of virgin materials to make new steel results in a 97 percent reduction in mining wastes, 90 percent savings in virgin materials use, 86 percent reduction in air pollution, 76 percent reduction in water pollution, 74 percent savings in energy, and 40 percent reduction in water use.

The appliance recycling process

Appliances are usually recycled in one of three ways: 1) directly from consumers; 2) through retailers and services who take back old major appliances when installing new ones; 3) "early turn-in" programs where electric utilities give their customers incentives to turn in older, less efficient appliances (primarily refrigerators, freezers, and air conditioners).

Appliance processing involves removing components such as motors and compressors, compressor oil, copper tubing and wiring, and refrigerant chemicals for separate recycling. Illinois law requires removal of all CFC refrigerants by certified technicians using EPA-approved equipment prior to recycling. Penalties of up to $25,000 for releasing CFCs to the atmosphere help to insure that proper procedures are followed.




Reuse and recycling options

The best time to recycle an appliance is when buying a new one. Many retailers, including Abt Electronics in Glenview and Sears, will take back used appliances when delivering the new ones. At Sears, some of these appliances may be refurbished and resold at a discount in a Sears Appliance Outlet store.

The Salvation Army (888) 5-PICKUP will also take appliances. (See link, below.) However, they must be in working condition, and the drivers doing the pickup may reject the item – or any donation – at their discretion if it is in poor condition. (NOTE: Goodwill Industries of Metropolitan Chicago is not currently accepting large appliances.)

In Chicago, individuals living in single-family homes or apartment buildings of four units or less may place used appliances in the alleys for pick-up by Department of Streets and Sanitation trucks, which will deliver them to one of the city’s sorting centers. Allied Waste, which manages the centers, has a contract with a recycling company to pick up the appliances and drain and dispose of the chemicals properly.

Local scrap dealers also usually accept old appliances. However, they may charge a fee to safely drain the refrigerants. Be sure to call the dealer first for details.

Those who are served by private waste haulers and cannot bring their appliances to a recycling facility should check with their provider for specific policies regarding appliance recycling.

Web resources

Appliance Recycling Information Center
Salvation Army