We know the mantra well: "Reduce, reuse, recycle." We often start by repairing, selling or donating our unwanted stuff but eventually, we must figure out how to recycle that old refrigerator Grandma gave you in 1980. And recycling can even be cost effective when its energy use is taken into account because outdated products are often less energy efficient than newer models -- even when you include the embodied energy cost of producing the new one and disposing of the old.
Recycling certain household items may be trickier than you think. Proper recycling of appliances, electronics, fluorescent bulbs, and rechargeable batteries is a must. It reduces pollution in two important ways:
• Recyclable materials, such as glass, plastics, and metals, are kept out of landfills.
• Hazardous waste is handled appropriately.
Let's get busy recycling the safe way!
Properly disposing of appliances helps keep harmful chemicals, such as refrigerants, mercury, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) out of the atmosphere and landfills. It saves energy too, because recycling existing materials to create new products uses less energy than making new products from virgin materials.
According to the Steel Recycling Association, nearly 90 percent of household appliances in the U.S. are now recycled since disposal systems have become more effective at salvaging the plastic, steel, glass, refrigerant, oil and blowing agent found in old appliances for use in new products.
Consumer Reports explains that when you buy a new large appliance, most retailers will haul away the old one. Some utilities will even pay you to dispose of an energy-wasting appliance. Find out whether your town or county government offers an appliance-recycling program or locate one on the Steel Recycling Institute's website.
How many electronic products become obsolete before we can even blink? America has an ever-growing pile of unwanted electronics, or "e-waste," and electronic discards are one of the fastest growing segments of our nation's waste stream. Check the EPA's e-cycling database to find information about electronics recycling programs in your area. Also, many computer, TV and cell phone manufacturers, as well as electronics retailers offer some kind of take back program or sponsor recycling events.
CFL's and fluorescent light bulbs
Energy Star compact fluorescent light bulbs last longer and use up to 75 percent less energy than standard light bulbs, but they need to be disposed of carefully because they contain trace amounts of mercury. Several states have banned the disposal of CFLs in household trash, so you may need to dispose of them at your local household hazardous waste collection site. To find out what programs are available in your state or region, go to www.epa.gov/bulbrecycling. Proper recycling prevents the release of the mercury into the environment and the glass and metal parts can be reused.
Don't forget about that old fluorescent fixture flickering away in your basement either. If it was manufactured before 1979, it may contain PCBs in the ballast and should be disposed of responsibly. You can go to www.lamprecycle.org for a list of national lamp and ballast recyclers.
Consumers use an average of six wireless products in their day-to-day lives, and the average cell phone is replaced every 18 to 24 months.
Improperly disposed batteries can pollute water sources, leach from solid waste landfills, cause burns or danger to eyes and skin and expose the environment to hazardous lead and acid.
Safely disposing of batteries has gotten easier in recent years. Many stores that sell batteries, phones or electronics will take used batteries back for recycling. And through programs like Call2Recycle, all materials are used to create other goods, including new batteries, stainless steel products and more. They make the process so simple that there are no excuses for not doing it!
Follow Sloan Barnett on Twitter and on her Facebook page.
Follow Sloan Barnett on Twitter: www.twitter.com/sloanbarnett