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  • How to Recycle or Reuse Broken Stuff

    A motor from a small appliance can be reused in many ways, including taking it apart to learn how motors work.

    A motor from a small appliance can be reused in many ways, including taking it apart to learn how motors work.

    The Fix-It Club can help you repair hundreds of household things that break: appliances, bicycles, cell phones, computers, electric fans, hair dryers, iPhones, microwaves, plumbing, slow cookers, tvs, toasters, yard trimmers, and more. But there will be some things that you just can't fix — or can't find parts for. So what are you going to do with those things? Consider the many creative ways of recycling before you send anything to the landfill.

    Recycle It

    Because recycling is subject to local interpretation and budgets, you may find that recycling things and parts may be quite easy or relatively difficult depending on where you live. The best place to learn about recycling is to call whatever company picks up your trash. If you're rural and must take trash and recycling to a landfill, transfer station, or recycle center, contact the company to find out what it can use and what it can't, and whether there is a charge.

    For example, many communities have curbside pickup for trash and recycling. The recycled things may be collected in a single bin or need to be sorted by type: metals, plastics, papers, and yard waste. Some communities have curbside recycling for small and major appliances while others don't. And in some towns, there are private recyclers that will pick up just about any recyclable materials you put at the curb on a specified day.

    Most major appliances are about 75 percent steel—and about a third of that is recycled steel. Other metals in appliances include copper, aluminum, and zinc, all recyclable. Refrigerators, freezers, ranges, ovens, cook tops, clothes washers, dryers, dishwashers, dehumidifiers, room air conditioners, trash compactors are all potentially recyclable.

    Refrigeration appliances may require specialized recyclers to remove the Freon gas before recycling. That's why some recyclers and landfills charge a fee for accepting these appliances. Others charge a fee for any large objects that they accept.

    You also can find local recyclers in your local telephone book under headings like Recycle Centers and Scrap Metals. Many will pay you for aluminum cans, clear glass, PET plastics, and nonferrous (non-iron) metals. PET stands for poly ethylene terephthalate, a plastic resin used in many products--and easily recycled into new products.

    Reuse It

    There are many things around your home that you can reuse instead of recycling or tossing. Think creatively before you banish something from your household. For example:

    • Unrepairable clothing can become fix-it shop rags or quilting squares.
    • Broken or discarded kitchen cabinets can be used as work cabinets in your fix-it shop.
    • Extra drawers from a broken dresser can become under-bed storage containers.
    • Ugly but usable hairdryers can be put to work thawing frozen pipes or making small patches of paint dry faster.
    • Old tires can be nailed to walls in tight garages to reduce car scrapes or used in the yard as landscaping material or as play equipment.
    • Polystyrene packing (peanuts) and other packing materials can be used to pack around breakable gifts or any package you need to mail or ship.

    Donate out-of-prescription eye glasses to your local Lions Club for reuse.

    Donate out-of-prescription eye glasses to your local Lions Club for reuse.

    Give it to Someone Who Can Use It

    • Donate old eyeglasses to your local Lions Club.
    • Some charities will accept operating computers and appliances.
    • Old cell phones can be donated to groups that help homeless and/or low-income people to be used for emergency-only calls.
    • Local charities may also accept diskettes, video tapes, polystyrene packing, compact discs, and holiday greeting cards.
    • A senior center or homeless shelter may appreciate your old books and magazines.
    • Packing peanuts and other packing materials are appreciated by your local mailbox/shipping store.
    • Animal shelters gladly take donations of clean blankets and towels.

    What You Can Recycle

    Recycling rules are localized. Your curbside recycling collector will probably accept many recyclables. Check with your local trash collector and/or recycler and any local recycling center for more information. However, many recyclers and communities use these guidelines:

    • Glass: Unbroken glass containers (not tableware, ceramics, Pyrex, windows, light bulbs, mirrors, or broken glass). Clear glass is valuable, mixed color glass is nearly worthless, and broken glass is hard to sort. Don't bother removing labels.
    • Paper: Newspapers and inserts (not dirty, not rubber bands, plastic bags, product samples, dirt, or mold). Some locations don't recycle cardboard, others do. Not waxed milk or juice cartons. Some recyclers require that magazines be recycled separately from newspapers.
    • Metal: Empty metal cans, caps, lids, bands, foil, (not full cans, spray cans, or cans with paint or hazardous waste). Many recyclers don't even require that you remove labels.
    • Aluminum: Lawn chairs, window frames, pots (not metal parts attracted to magnets, nonmetal parts); sometimes tin is recycled with aluminum.
    • Motor oil: Call your garbage company or auto lube center. (Each year do-it-yourselfers improperly dump more oil than the Exxon Valdez spilled!)
    • Batteries: Automotive (take to a parts retailer); alkaline and rechargeable, such as those used in cordless phones, camcorders, shavers, portable appliances, and computers (throw in the trash unless prohibited); nickel-cadmium (recycle).
    • Ink cartridges: Send to a recycler or refiller. Your local office supply store may accept them.
    • Household toxins (paints, oils, solvents, pesticides, cleaners): Call your garbage collector for advice. Do not dump them down storm drains.
    • Plastic: Virtually everything made of plastic should be marked with a recycle code, but not all types can actually be recycled. You may be able to recycle plastic grocery bags at the grocery store; other plastic bags may have to be trashed. Any product made of a single plastic type should be marked and might be recyclable; those with mixed plastic types can't be recycled.
    • Things requiring specialized recyclers: Major appliances with Freon (chlorinated fluorocarbon CFC) require trained technicians to remove; other items that require special recycling include antifreeze, asphalt shingles, car batteries, computers, ink and toner cartridges, rugs, smoke detectors, and single-use cameras.

    Other Recycling Options

    Recycle or Reuse It

    Recycling symbols for common plastics.

    What if the recycler won't take it? Who will? In years past, organizations like the Salvation Army, Goodwill Industries, and St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Stores took nonworking items as donations for rehabilitation. The items were rehabilitated along with the people who fixed them. Broken things created jobs. However, the labor market has absorbed many of these workers into the mainstream, providing jobs in restaurants, retail stores, and factories. So, today, most of these organizations don't accept nonworking items (except computers). In fact, such "donations" actually cost the group money because they have to dispose of the item. Goodwill Industries, for example, asks that donations be of "things you would give to a friend."

    Another option is to recycle broken things to repair shops. For example, small appliance repair shops may accept nonworking items and reuse the parts. Or they may refurbish and resell items. Most won't pay you anything for the broken things — there's just not enough profit in it — but they may bring it back to working condition and save someone some money. And you won't have to pay to put it in the landfill.

    If you learn to enjoy fixing things, donate something that breaks to your education. That is, put it on the workbench for a rainy day and disassemble it to figure out how it works. You may even be able to salvage and reuse an otherwise good motor, heat element, or switches. Once your repair skills are build, consider volunteering them to help others. You'll be a member in good standing of the Fix-It Club!

    --Dan "The Fix-It Man" Ramsey

    Fix-It Club