Behind closed drawers: What really happens to your stuff
(Guest post by Brett Caron) Sometimes people love their stuff as much as they love, well, other people. They enjoy many happy years together – or rather the person does, because the other one is an inanimate object. But just like real-people love, sometimes we fall out of love with our stuff and it becomes junk.
With no messy custody battles or mutual friends to divide up, we go our separate ways. We remember, and we recycle. But once the stuff, now junk, is gone – what then? What comes next?
TVs and Computer Monitors
It’s hard not to feel a little sorry for your ex-TV. Outpaced every month by a newer model, the latest and greatest thing quickly fades from the spotlight. Hundreds of millions of CRT televisions and their dangerous lead content are already in landfills across the USA and elsewhere. Hundreds of millions more are on the way as people continue to replace them with flatscreens, and recycling is essential to prevent more harmful materials winding up somewhere they shouldn’t.
Besides some innovative processes that will remove the lead and phosphorous inside CRT glass and turn the rest into sand, most CRT glass is used to manufacture…more CRT glass. Flat screens contain mercury and other toxic materials that have to be carefully removed before the other components can be properly recycled. Both old and modern televisions are not really made with consideration as to their end-of-life process, which is sort of like getting a dog and then assuming someone else is going to clean up after it. This is why it’s important that they be disposed of properly, and not handed off to the person from Craigslist that says they’ll take it off your hands for $25.
Fridges and Freezers
Fridges and other cooling appliances made before the mid-90s differ very little from ones made today except that the chemicals used for coolant are more hazardous to the environment. But they have the same problem as old TVs in that the spike of their mass extinction has yet to happen. Even the newer, safer models use coolants that contribute to climate change and need to be handled properly.
After the coolant is removed, the remainder of the fridge is typically either refurbished and then resold domestically or overseas, or it’s separated into its various materials that are recycled individually. Of course, if sent to a landfill, the second part doesn’t happen and it just rusts.
Bed may just seem like a magic fortress of comfort that you use to fall into the loving arms of Sleep, but there’s a lot going on in there that makes it a specialist item to recycle.
First of all, whether sent to a landfill or a recycling center (which usually specializes in bedding), most mattresses will take up more than 20 cubic feet of space. The foundation or box spring doubles that, unless it’s just going to hold up the new one and pretend nothing happened. Box springs are emotionally stable that way.
This space is filled with a variety of textiles, wood, and metal. Just as much as electronics or appliances, mattresses are designed with (and evolving) new technologies to keep our spines aligned or twist us into a human pretzel because it makes our breathing quieter.
Some recycling centers will shred the metal, crush springs into compact cubes, or both – the idea being that the next step is a steel foundry or another place that will buy the steel. They do this to keep their costs down, selling off what they can. Driving recycling by profit is a good way to motivate change. Creating a market, demand for an environmentally-friendly product drives new and better ways to efficiently dispose of the influx of consumer waste.
Remember, you don’t need the drama that comes with burning old pictures of you and your ex-TV while you cry in the tub. Sometimes two people – or one person and a soulless screen-machine – just drift apart. It’s better to recognize that and wish the other well in their future. After all, you’ll always have Casablanca.
Brett Caron is a freelance writer and works with 1-800-GOT-JUNK? as an analyst. He enjoys craft beer and writing, and he can often be found engaged in both at the same time. Connect with Brett via Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook.