Plastic waste journal

Plastic Waste Journal, December 2018

Recently I’ve been enjoying shooting vlogs of our trash, but this post will still have some info I didn’t fit into the video, especially about what to do with small kitchen appliances. In case you missed the vlog, here it is:

There were a few items I want to mention that aren’t pictured here. The first is a few dirty diapers. We converted to cloth diapers about a year ago, but we still had a box of plastic-filled disposable diapers in the closet. Every once in a while when we are out of clean cloth diapers we pull one out of the closet. If you are thinking of moving to cloth diapers, I highly recommend making the switch before you are out of disposable diapers! Second, a sticky trap with a rat tail stuck on it (please don’t judge me! We tried everything else first…). Third, we had two small appliances break, and trying to figure out what to do with them has proven to be difficult.

Our bread machine and food processor both broke!

My food processor bowl had a crack in it that was getting bigger each time I used it, then the motor literally caught on fire, so it is beyond repair. The bread machine only has one broken bolt, but it is the piece which holds the paddle on and therefore the whole machine is useless without it. Both of these are used frequently in our house and I’ve already found replacements for both. I bought another bread machine at a thrift store and I bought a refurbished Vitamix to replace the food processor. The tricky thing is what to do with the unwanted appliances (besides throw them in the landfill, which is what I would have done without blinking two years ago!)

How to recycle a small kitchen appliance.

First, if an appliance you don’t want anymore still works, donate it to a thrift store or post on a Chattanooga free stuff board on Facebook.

Second, if you have a broken appliance, try to fix it if possible. We recently had to shell out $300 to fix our washing machine–almost enough to buy a new cheap model! But for us it was worth fixing, not only to keep a matching set with our drier, but because not fixing it would have meant sending it to a landfill. Paying a repair person also helps to boost the repair economy, which is important for job creation. If you are more of a diy person, is a great resource to learn how to repair items as well as order hard to find replacement parts (there are particularly a lot of tutorials on fixing electronic items).

Third, if it is an appliance with multiple parts which are light enough to ship, try posting its parts on ebay or facebook marketplace for just enough to cover your shipping (or post on a frees stuff board). I am surprised at how many food processors with only their bowls or blades are for sale on ebay and at how many lone coffee pots are at thrift stores. This can help someone else keep their appliance out of a landfill (for example, if they lost an attachment for their food processor or KitchenAid, or their coffee pot cracked, then having yours makes it usable again.). Even the glass plate and wheels inside a microwave might be useful to someone else. I plan to post the blade attachments from our food processor on Facebook marketplace. Update (yes, I know, even before publishing the post!): Writing this made me think twice about our bread machine, which works great except for the paddle that kneads the bread. Sure enough, a 5 minute Ebay search and I found a working replacement part! Even including shipping it was cheaper than the thrift-store bread machine I had bought. Because of the difficulty in recycling small appliances (see below!), I decided to order the part. Sooooo now we will have two bread machines and I will try to sell one of them on Facebook marketplace or give it to a friend.

Fourth, try googling “repurposing an old [whatever appliance you have]. My search for repurposing food processors was unfruitful, but if we had an old refrigerator there are lots of ideas!

Fifth, if none of the above will work, then recycling what you can is the next best choice. The difficulty with recycling appliances is there are lots of parts made of different materials that have to be separated. Valuable parts of an appliance, such as copper and even gold are screwed or glued onto more worthless plastic. If your appliance is made by the Hamilton Beach company, then they will accept the whole thing back for recycling. For all other brands, the task of recycling falls on you, the consumer. If the item is small, you could buy a “Kitchen Gear” recycling box and send it to Terracycle. Terracycle is an awesome company that takes hard-to-recycle items and uses innovative techniques to create new materials. The biggest drawback is it would be very expensive for a large appliance. Your other choice is to take it apart yourself as best as you can and remove the high-value metal in your appliance. I spoke to CMC recycling in Chattanooga and they said a small amount of plastic is ok, they just put it through the shredder. CMC recycling will even take the electrical cord if you cut it off the appliance. But a large volume of plastic won’t work, such as in a TV set, which is mostly plastic. They do not take electronic waste either.

After removing what metals you can, the rest of the appliance will, sadly, be landfill-bound. Most of our food processor will end up in the landfill 😦

There is a reason “Recycle” is near the end of the zero-waste mantra of Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot. Because of the difficulties around disposing of appliances, before you buy an appliance really think through how much you will use it and if you need it in the first place. There are so many kitchen gizmos and gadgets, it seems likely not all are necessary. Or maybe you don’t need that second refrigerator or TV. If you determine that it is best for you to own an appliance, try hard to find a quality one second hand. This does take more time, but at the end of its life you can at least know it wasn’t created newly for you. If you can’t find an appliance second hand, consider saving up and buying the highest quality item you can afford. Instead of looking for the newest features, look for ratings about a brand’s durability and a long warranty.

Zero-waste living is often seen only as refilling mason jars at the bulk bins, but it is so much more. One of the most impactful things reducing our waste has been to pause before buying something and ask: “What will happen to this item when it no longer works or I no longer need it?” If the answer is “I will have to throw it away,” we think very carefully before buying.

3 thoughts on “Plastic Waste Journal, December 2018”

  1. I’m welcoming the news that the UK government is encouraging the growth of repair centres for small appliances, mainly manned by elderly volunteers retired from the trade but it is a welcome start in the right direction


    1. Yes! I wish our city of Chattanooga had a repair center like that! Some libraries host things like “Repair days” when those with broken appliances can get help from people experienced in doing small repairs. Our public library does have a tool library for people to borrow tools they may need, which is awesome!

      Liked by 1 person

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