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Got an old air conditioner or other appliance you’re thinking of getting rid of?

Don’t just put it out with the garbage..or worse, dump it somewhere off the beaten track. Old, household appliances like air conditioning units, refrigerators, freezers, washers and dryers contain components and substances that can potentially cause harm to the environment if not disposed of properly.

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The release of toxic chemicals, greenhouse gases and heavy metals are all real threats when these appliances make their way to landfills and garbage dumps. Proper recycling and disposal greatly reduces the risk of environmental contamination.

What Can Be Recycled?

Refrigerators, freezers, dehumidifiers and air conditioners contain chemical refrigerants and insulation that release ozone-depleting substances into the atmosphere when they are thrown away. Older models can even contain mercury and PCBs. Federal laws require proper removal and disposal of refrigerants to reduce the possible effects of these chemicals.

If you need to get rid of an old refrigeration appliance or air conditioner, check your town’s bulk trash pick-up program. Some municipalities offer these “big item” collections a few times a year or allow residents to make arrangements to have large items picked up upon request.

Electronics like computers, stereos and televisions contain recyclable materials and toxic substances like lead, mercury, zinc and brominated flame retardants. Many of these materials can be reconditioned for other applications, so long as the appliances are disposed of properly.

Many major electronics manufacturers and retail stores have programs that let consumers trade in old equipment in exchange for discounts or rebates on new products. Items are collected and disposed of in compliance with federal environmental laws.

The Environmental Protection Agency also maintains local e-waste recycling or donation programs. Check the EPA website for details about programs in your area.

Fluorescent lights contain harmful CFLs that classify them as toxic waste. Because they also have small amounts of mercury, many states ban disposal of lighting equipment in normal household trash.

Many towns do offer safe, environmentally responsible lighting disposal at recycling centers or waste transfer stations. Requirements and opportunities vary from state to state so check the EPA website for more information about programs in your area.

If you have old lighting fixtures that were manufactured before 1979, you are required by federal law to get rid of them properly. Visit https://lamprecycle.org/en/ for a directory of national recyclers.

Can I Get Money for My Old Stuff?

Rebates and discounts are a popular motivation that lots of utility companies and local municipalities use as an incentive to comply with waste disposal regulations. Commonly, rebates are offered for trade-ins of old appliances and are distributed in the form of cash payments or credit toward the purchase of a new Energy Star-qualified replacement. Companies may provide haul-away services or may sponsor drop-off events. The most popular target for these kinds of programs are old refrigerators, though some offer rebates for portable air conditioners, computer equipment and electronics.

If your appliances are still in good, usable condition, you can always offer them to the highest bidder on websites such as Ebay or Craig’s List. Other websites, such as FreeCycle and SwapTree will let you list items you wish to simply give away or trade with others.

The most important thing to remember is that many household appliances, particularly older model refrigerators, air conditioners, televisions and light fixtures, can be classified as hazardous waste. It is your responsibility—or the responsibility of your contractor—to handle, dispose of or recycle these items properly to reduce the risks to your health and the environment.

Can I Just Give My Appliances Away?

Sure. Many charitable organizations will take your old appliances, provided that they are still functional and safe. You may even qualify for a charitable tax deduction. Some organizations to consider include:


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