People have been secretly dumping old appliances almost as long as companies have made them. Too often, clean-up crews find old stoves, water heaters, and even refrigerators that people have thrown away improperly. Even the threat of big fines has not stopped the practice. So now, some Great Lakes states are beginning to set up programs to accept the old appliances. They’ve found it’s more effective than having to pick them up out of roadside ditches. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
People have been secretly dumping old appliances almost as long as companies have made them. Too often, clean-up crews find old stoves, water heaters, and even refrigerators that people have thrown away improperly. Even the threat of big fines has not stopped the practice. So now, some Great Lakes states are beginning to set up programs to accept the old appliances. They’ve found it’s more effective than having to pick them up out of roadside ditches. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports.
It might be against the law to dump an old refrigerator or washing machine, but that doesn’t stop thousands of people each year from doing just that. And the reasons are simple, it’s hard to find a place that will take them, and those that do take them often charge a fee.
It got to be more of a problem in the 1980’s. Several states banned large appliances from landfills because they took up too much space. So, homeowners were left to their own devices to get rid of them. Then at about the same time, an increase in cheap imported steel forced down the price being paid for scrap metal. So anymore, fewer scavengers are making fewer rounds to pick up old appliances. That’s because much of the time, it just doesn’t pay. But, the few times when prices do get high enough, some of the scavengers will even pull appliances out of illegal dumping grounds to cart off and sell to steel recyclers. Greg Crawford is with the Steel Recycling Institute. He says the scrap metal market can have a great affect on where old appliances end up.
“That happens routinely year in and year out as the prices cyclically go up and down. And it is money. It is the scrap value of the iron and steel in the appliances that encourages the peddler trade to make these collection runs and then bring the appliances back into the scrap dealers.”
Besides looking horrible, dumping can also damage the environment. Many old appliances such as refrigerators, deep freezes and air conditioners contain coolant gases such as CFC’s that damage the ozone layer. If those gases aren’t captured, they’ll eventually leak out of the appliances. That’s why some governments are trying to come up with new ways to the problem of appliance disposal. Arley Owens is with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. He says Ohio is helping to lead an effort to make sure unwanted appliances are disposed of properly.
“We basically had to ask the question ‘Do you want to collect the appliances that people may illegally dump?’ Because in some cases when you don’t have enough money in your budget to buy food or to make ends meet for that particular month, there’s no way you’re going to take an appliance half-way across the county and then be charged a fee for the drop off and then the evacuation of the CFCs, which could run as much as anywhere from 30 to 40 to 75 dollars depending on the location.”
In Ohio, Owens says, each year the state gives each county’s solid waste management district a thousand dollars to publicize a drop-off period in the spring. Then, working with steel recyclers, they remove the CFC’s and send those old appliances to Ohio’s steel mills to be melted down for new products. But, most states don’t have such a program. In some cases, appliance stores will dispose of the old equipment for little or no cost when they deliver a new replacement. But, many of the large retail chains don’t. So those customers are on their own.
Some solid waste experts say that should change. Dana Duxbury-Fox has been a consultant on solid waste issues. She says someone should be responsible for making sure every big appliance will be recycled properly.
“And in my ideal world the manufacturer has that responsibility. If they made it –and particularly with products that have hazardous constituents– if they put those into the marketplace, they should be responsible for keeping it out of it.”
She suggests there should be a deposit on appliances, or a fixed cost included in the price that would pay for recycling services at the end of the life of the appliance. But those kinds of programs are hard to sell to lawmakers. That’s because despite the very real problem o illegal dumping. Big appliances are already being recycled at a higher rate than most steel products. In fact, according to the steel recycling institute, the recycling rate for big appliances increased from forty-one percent in 1990 to eighty-four percent last year. But still that leaves the question of where sixteen out of every hundred appliances end up. Greg Crawford with the Steel Recycling Institute says adding a fee or deposit probably wouldn’t be helpful.
“It would have the effect, really, of being a very expensive add on system that would perhaps get the incremental appliances, but it would be at a very high cost. It would not be the same efficient system that’s already in place, not withstanding the exception of improper dumping that some people erroneously choose to do.”
But, for many areas, especially rural areas’ dumping remains a problem because no one has offered a practical and inexpensive alternative. For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.