What to do with old appliances and white goods

G Magazine

Save your trusty old fridges and other household goods from a lonely (and un-green!) eternity in landfill

Old oven being thrown out

Credit: Corey Butler

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In the quest to make our lives easier, humans have created whirring, whistling, electrical items that we now consider 'necessities' in our homes.

In fact, Australians collectively own 45 million appliances - and each year 2.5 million of them are discarded, ending up in landfill.

Only a few generations ago, electronic waste (or e-waste) wasn't an issue - most households didn't own any appliances, and if you were lucky enough to have a refrigerator or maybe a washing machine, you'd expect to keep it for least 20 years.

So with our modern hunger for all things electronic, how do we go about responsibly disposing of appliances when their inevitably short life ends?

Stripped bare

Despite the lack of an official recycling scheme, metal recyclers such as Smorgen Steel strip about 70 per cent of discarded appliances for scrap metal before they're sent to landfill.

Appliances are generally made of two-thirds steel, and it's such a valuable material that little of it ends up in landfill.

The same cannot be said of the remaining waste, which is called 'shredder flock'. As well as some potentially recyclable plastic, shredder flock contains hazardous substances such as lead, cadmium and flame retardants.

While the actual quantities of these materials are small, they are highly toxic and can leach from landfills into waterways.

Government and industry are currently working to develop a product stewardship program to better manage the lifecycle of electronic items and prevent e-waste.

In the mean time, consumers can do their bit by choosing and maintaining appliances carefully, reusing them if possible and ensuring they get recycled.

In the market

If you are going to buy an appliance that will last for years, it's important to choose the right one.

To maximise energy and water efficiency, choose products with the highest star rating and don't buy anything bigger than you need.

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