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Everything you need to know about appliance recycling

Caring for the environment, removing dangerous substances and recovering components that may be useful for other products in the future are very important reasons for making the effort to recycle electrical appliances properly. We have prepared this article so you can become familiar with all the steps, the agents involved and the possibilities for the consumer

The first step is to know the 3 R's: reduce, reuse, recycle.

The rule of the 3Rs helps us to build a better world based on  responsible consumption and the efficient use and recovery of the resources we use in our day to day activities. In the case of household appliances, their management is especially important if we take into account the fact that:

  • On the one hand, they contain components that can be reused...
  • And, on the other, they also contain other dangerous items that must be correctly treated.

For these reasons, it is so important for all unusable appliances to be taken away in the correct way and to use the places provided for this purpose, with different options of which consumers must be aware.

Seller's recovery and recycling obligations

When it comes to recycling an appliance, there are two main ways in which its recovery process begins. The most common way is that a better appliance is purchased when the old appliance is wearing out, or when you want a better one, especially in terms of energy efficiency.

So, when a consumer purchases a new appliance, the point of sale is obliged to take back the old one, provided that it meets an essential requirement: that the new appliance is equal to the old one or performs the same functions.

Collection is free, and also basically offers two options. If it is a large appliance (refrigerator, washing machine or dishwasher, for example), you can have it picked up when the new one is delivered. If it is a small appliance, it should be taken back to the place of purchase. You do not have to take back your old appliance immediately; you have up to 30 calendar days from the time you purchased the new one to do so.

Current regulations also require that any company selling household appliances which has a sales area of 400 m2 or more must have a collection point for small appliances, those measuring less than 25 centimetres. These obligations also extend to online sales companies. In any case, the consumer has the right to receive a copy of the collection receipt for the appliance, indicating the date of collection, the type of appliance, the brand and the serial number.

Clean Points

The other possibility is to dispose of the appliance directly without replacing it. It is at this point where you must use a Clean Point provided by your council or association, which must be available to everyone at all times. Clean Points are places for the collection of different types of household waste.

Many city councils, in addition to providing fixed spaces, also have other “mobile spaces” which, every few days and at certain times, provide areas closer to residents’ homes where they can leave especially bulky objects, such as large appliances.

Whether at a fixed or mobile clean point, what is particularly important is the way in which the appliances are deposited. They can never be dumped or thrown because, firstly, it would make it difficult and even impossible to recycle their components later on and also dangerous substances could be emitted into the environment. This type of waste must be deposited in a specially designed storage area , where the floor or ground has to be waterproofed. It is also important, especially with large household appliances, that a delivery receipt is requested.

The role of the waste manager

After delivery to the store or clean point, the role of the consumer has ended but the appliance recycling path has only just begun. It is at this time that the waste manager takes on the leading role.

"Remember the rule of the 3Rs: Reduce, Recycle and Reuse.”

Waste management companies or consortia, public or private, are in charge of carrying out the separated collection, transportation to the recycling plant, monitoring and finally the processing of the recoverable materials in the recycling plant. They are also in charge of properly storing those materials that are not recoverable, and of carrying out the subsequent treatment of the waste.

The first step after collection is usually to take this waste to a temporary warehouse. The period in which it remains in this area is increasingly curtailed to reduce any possibility of contamination, especially of soils and aquifers, and to reduce its deterioration so that a second life can be sought for the materials contained in this waste. In this temporary storage, the electrical appliances have already been identified and separated according to both their danger and the treatment they are going to receive.

Already in the recycling plant, disassembly work is carried out, any valuable elements being extracted, while any dangerous substances are also removed. Both are selectively extracted, isolated and stored properly, again with a special emphasis on hazardous substances.

From here, both types of components follow different routes. Among the dangerous ones, some, which are generally heavy metals such as cadmium or lead, after a subsequent treatment can be reused, others such as mercury are generally stored with the maximum security measures.

Meanwhile, other valuable elements such as steel, aluminium or copper among many others, are distributed to production companies to start a new cycle, in which the role of everyone (consumer, businesses, administrations and waste management companies/entities) is vital. 

Now you know the way in which an appliance can add value even after its useful life has expired. It depends on you alone to do the right thing and do your bit for the recycling chain.

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