recycling: Now You're Cooking: New Uses for Old Appliances

In an effort to tap the more than 300 million potentially recoverable and reusable pounds of high-value plastics used in discarded appliances, Minneapolis-based Appliance Recycling Centers of America Inc. (ARCA) and the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory, Argonne, Ill., have embarked on a 16-month pilot project at ARCA's Minneapolis appliance shredder facility.

During the pilot, researchers will study economical ways to separate and recover highly-pure plastics, such as acrylonitrilebutadiene-styrene (ABS) and high impact polystyrene (HIPS), from shredded household appliances.

Argonne estimates these recyclable materials' value is about 55 cents to 60 cents per pound for ABS and 30 cents to 35 cents per pound for HIPS. The company will test these recovered materials with the aim of marketing the recovered plastic as raw manufacturing feedstock.

For its part, Argonne will continue to evaluate the processes to seek ways to improve their efficiency. Further, to enhance recycled plastic materials' market penetration, cost-effective methods for improving the recovered plastics' performance also will be developed.

Argonne has developed a technique that reclaims the galvanized steel used in appliance construction. Previously, this steel was considered "scrap" because its zinc coating (used for rust proofing) could not be removed. This technique uses an aqueous solution - like those used in drain cleaners - to dissolve the zinc coating. An electric current then passes through the solution which, in turn, releases the zinc as a powder that can be collected and sold.

The process' by-products are hydrogen and oxygen gases and about a pound-and-a-half of sludge per ton of metal, which is disposed of as hazardous waste. Currently, Metal Recovery Technologies Inc., Chicago, is using this process successfully at its 75,000 ton-per-year (tpy) pilot plant.

The DOE is seeking an industrial partner to build and operate a commercial-size pilot plant with a 200,000 tpy capacity. Negotiations now are underway with a major auto manufacturer for commercial agreements to dezinc galvanized industrial scrap that can be used as raw material in making iron products, such as engine blocks.

By reclaiming galvanized steel, the steel industry has the potential to save $140 million annually in operating costs, plus another $150 million a year in environmental compliance costs, according to Argonne. Additionally, since most zinc is imported, Argonne reports that recovering zinc with its new process could reduce the nation's annual trade deficit by $100 million.

In a third program, ARCA is working with Southern California Edison (Rosemead) at its facility in Compton, Calif., to recycle 30,000 appliances annually. Edison offers customers a $25 check or a $50 U.S. Series EE Savings Bond in exchange for a spare refrigerator or freezer.

"The typical spare 'fridge' is 14 years old and uses twice as much electricity as a more efficient, [newer] model," says Mike Gadd, "Edison's energy efficiency director. By participating in our recycling program, customers will reduce their energy bills, improve the environment, reduce safety hazards and receive cash or a savings bond in return."

For more information, contact Rosemary Barrera at Argonne, (708) 252-7997. E-mail:

ASME Offers Waste Management Scholarships College and university engineering students interested in launching careers in solid waste management have until March 31 to apply for a scholarship from the Solid Waste Processing Division of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) International.

The scholarship program, which is for the 1997-1998 school year, is intended to encourage students to apply their technical skills in waste-to-energy facilities, landfill design and maintenance, community recycling and other such fields. Any student demonstrating academic excellence is eligible. During the 1996-1997 school year, three students and their respective universities shared $8,000 in scholarships.

For an application packet including eligibility requirements, contact: Elio Manes, ASME International, 345 East 47th St., New York, N.Y. 10017-2392. (212) 705-7797. E-mail: