Appliance Recycling: How to Recycle Large and Small Appliances

When the time comes to get rid of an old appliance, your business is faced with the sometimes confusing task of figuring out how to dispose of it properly. With appliances ranging from large commercial refrigerators to small coffee makers, it can be difficult to know exactly how to get rid of these products in the most environmentally friendly way.

With only six percent of small appliances recycled and 2.1 million tons of major appliances sent to a landfill in 2017, appliance waste is on the rise, with no end in sight. In this article, we will walk you through your appliance recycling options and help you make the best decisions possible for your bottom-line and the environment.

The Environmental Benefits of Recycling Old Appliances

Whether your business needs to upgrade dozens of commercial refrigerators, or you are looking for a more energy-efficient washing machine for your home, you will soon find yourself needing to dispose of old appliances.

It’s important to seek out the most environmentally friendly means of appliance recycling that is available in your community. In fact, holding onto an old appliance for too long can be worse for the environment than arranging for it to be recycled at the ends of its useful life. By using an inefficient refrigerator or washing machine, for example, your energy consumption could unnecessarily spike, leading to higher resource use and greenhouse gas emissions.

However, if improperly disposed of, old appliances can wreak havoc on the environment. Poor disposal can lead to:

  • The release of hazardous substances such as used oil, mercury, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs);
  • Excess greenhouse gas emissions, including but not limited to carbon dioxide, methane, and water vapor; and
  • The release of ozone-depleting substances (ODS), which are often found in refrigerants, into the atmosphere.

Appliance recycling covers numerous options available to consumers who are ready to part ways with their old appliances. Here are some of the different ways that you can recycle your old appliances.

Five Ways to Recycle Used Appliances

1) Appliance Resale or Donation

Depending on the condition and efficiency of your appliance, it may be beneficial to donate or sell it second-hand. This includes listing it on a resale site or donating it to a local thrift store or other location that accepts such donations. This option can be great for small appliance recycling, such as toasters or microwaves.

If you pursue this option, keep in mind the energy use/efficiency of your appliances. For example, while “reuse” is a key tenant of sustainability, putting an inefficient appliance back into use can have negative long-term impact, including high energy costs and increased energy use and emissions.

2) Appliance Swaps Through Retailers

If you are purchasing a new appliance for your business or home, you can often request the pickup of your old unit from the retailer. In fact, if you are in the market for a new appliance, large or small, try browsing products from retailers that specifically offer this service. This option streamlines your waste process and ensures that the appliance will be disposed of properly and recycled for parts.

While this service is rarely offered for free to commercial customers, our recycling experts at Rubicon® can work with your organization to build a cost-effective, environmentally friendly appliance recycling solution to ensure you are saving (or even making) money, and keeping precious materials out of landfills.

3) Schedule an Appliance Recycle Pick Up

Not replacing an appliance, but still need to get rid of it? Try searching for appliance recycling pick up services in your area. Local energy providers will often offer pick-up services, sometimes even providing energy vouchers to those who schedule a pick-up.

Otherwise, your local government’s Public Works Department should have some variation of its bulk trash pick up service, either for no cost or a small fee, available to community members. Just be sure that you know where your appliance will end up when choosing a pickup service, as you want to ensure that your appliances are being recycled to the fullest extent possible and that all hazardous byproducts are being properly handled. (If you are a business owner, ensure you get a certificate of sustainable disposal.)

4) Sell for Parts (Scrap)

Some businesses opt to sell their old appliances to haulers, who will remove them and sell any valuable parts from these machines. This option, sometimes called “bounty programs,” pays you for the ability to pick up your old units.

For bounty programs, the value is derived from ferrous metals, such as steel and iron, which can be recovered upon disposal. The Steel Recycling Institute found that 3.1 million tons of ferrous metals were recovered from shredded appliances in 2017. This can then be sold on the recycling market for reuse.

If your business chooses this method, the other materials found in your old appliances (such as plastics, glass, and other materials) are extracted and recycled as much as possible when breaking down an appliance unit.

5) EPA RAD Program

Taking into account all of the potential negative outcomes of appliance recycling methods, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) created the Responsible Appliance Disposal (RAD) program. The program identifies recycling partners that commit to a specific set of guidelines.

These partners utilize best practices and appliance recycling that “go beyond federal laws,” according to the EPA. This means recovering foam insulation and refrigerants, disposing of hazardous materials properly, and recycling all possible materials.

Between 2007 and 2018, RAD partners accomplished the following environmental milestones through proper appliance recycling:

  • Diverted 1.06 billion pounds of ferrous metals and 88 million pounds of non-ferrous metals from landfills;
  • Recycled 196 million pounds of plastic; and
  • Recycled 30 million pounds of glass.

In addition, they’ve facilitated the proper handling of:

  • 765,000 gallons of used oil; and
  • 319,000 PCB and 196,000 mercury-containing components.

Appliance Recycling Solutions

Rubicon’s mission is to end waste, in all of its forms. That includes ending the improper disposal of appliances, large and small.

We work to help businesses find appropriate recycling solutions for all of their waste streams in order to keep as much material out of landfills as possible. For many organizations, creating a plan or organizing recycling initiatives for old appliances can be at the bottom of the to-do list. With Rubicon on your side, we do all of the heavy lifting for you.

Our recycling experts at Rubicon work with your organization to build a cost-effective, environmentally friendly appliance recycling solution to ensure you are saving (or even making) money, and keeping precious materials out of landfills. In the case of valuable metals, Rubicon helps monitor market values and will ensure that you are always getting the most for your scrap metals.

Rubicon is a full-service provider of waste and recycling services, with the company’s overall scope of commercial solutions including construction and demolition (C&D) waste removal, food waste and organics recycling, hazardous waste disposal, and more.

If you have any questions, or you’re interested in learning more about Rubicon’s sustainability offerings, please reach out to Rubicon’s Circular Solutions team directly at circularsolutions@rubicon.com, or contact our sales team at (844) 479-1507.


Meredith Leahy is a Waste Diversion Manager at Rubicon. To stay ahead of Rubicon’s announcements of new partnerships and collaborations around the world, be sure to follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, or contact us today.

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