Looking to properly dispose of an old or broken microwave? Don’t just throw it in the trash – recycle it instead!
Recycling your unwanted microwave is important for reducing electronic waste and keeping hazardous materials out of landfills. This complete guide will cover everything you need to know about microwave recycling.
Why Recycle Microwaves?
There are a few key reasons why you should make the effort to recycle your old microwave:
- Hazardous components: Microwaves contain potentially hazardous materials including mercury, lead, and cancer-causing chemicals in the capacitors and other parts. Recycling ensures these don’t end up in landfills or the environment.
- Reduce e-waste: Over 40 million tons of e-waste is produced globally each year. Recycling your microwave helps lower the environmental impacts of electronic waste.
- Save natural resources: Recycling allows the materials in microwaves, like plastic, glass and metals, to be recovered and made into new products. This saves energy and resources.
- It’s the law: In most states and localities, it is illegal to dispose of electronics like microwaves in the trash. Recycling is required by law.
Now that you know why it’s important, let’s look at the best and easiest ways to recycle that old microwave sitting in your garage or basement.
How to Recycle a Microwave
There are various options for responsibly recycling your unwanted microwave oven. Here are some of the most common methods:
Take It to an Electronics Recycling Center
One of the easiest options is to take your old microwave to a specialized electronics recycling center or e-waste facility.
These centers safely dismantle electronics and ensure hazardous components are disposed of properly. They also extract metals, plastic, and other recyclable materials to give them new life.
Look in your local area for an electronics recycling facility or recycling event nearby where you can drop off small electronics like microwaves. Many are free or low cost to individual residents.
Use Retailer Take-Back Programs
Major retailers that sell microwaves and other electronics also offer take-back programs to collect old items for recycling.
When you purchase a new microwave from a participating retailer, you can bring in your old one and they will ensure it gets recycled through their program. Retailers like Best Buy, Home Depot, and Lowe’s have national take-back programs at many of their stores.
This is a convenient recycling solution when buying a microwave replacement. Be sure to ask your retailer about take-back options.
Return It to the Manufacturer
For some microwave brands, the manufacturer may accept returns of old units purchased under their brand for proper recycling and disposal.
Contact the manufacturer of your microwave, especially if it is a major brand like GE, Whirlpool, or Panasonic, to ask about recycling options. Some will provide prepaid shipping labels to return old units or direct you to an authorized recycling site.
Returning to the manufacturer ensures your microwave gets recycled by the company most familiar with its components and materials.
Use Special Collection Events
Your city or town may hold special collection events a few times a year to allow residents to safely dispose of household hazardous waste like electronics.
These events are advertised locally and allow you to bring electronics like microwaves to be recycled conveniently. Contact your municipal waste agency to learn about upcoming events in your area.
Schedule a Pickup Service
Some electronics recyclers will come directly to your home or office to pick up old electronics for recycling. This is convenient if you have no way to transport larger microwaves.
Look for certified e-waste recycling companies that offer pickup services in your region. Make sure to get proof of secure disposal and recycling once they have collected your items.
How to Prepare Your Microwave for Recycling
Before bringing your microwave in for recycling, follow these steps to prepare and make the process easier:
- Clean out food debris: Make sure to remove any rotting food or grease that may be inside. This helps recyclers dismantle and process the microwave more easily and safely.
- Detach accessories: Remove any glass turntables, racks, trays or other removable parts (but bring these with you to be recycled as well!).
- Keep cords and buttons: Don’t cut off the power cord or remove the control buttons/panel. The recycler will dismantle these to recover copper and other materials.
- Remove filters: Take out any charcoal filters which may contain residue. These require separate disposal.
- Disconnect before transport: It’s smart to disconnect the power cord for transport to prevent electrical hazards.
Following these steps allows for maximum recycling while keeping recyclers and waste handlers safe when processing your old microwave.
Are There Special Regulations?
There are a few key regulations surrounding responsible microwave recycling:
- No landfill disposal: In most areas, it is illegal to place old microwaves and other electronics in the landfill with household trash. You must recycle them separately.
- No dismantling: It is hazardous for individuals to dismantle microwaves at home due to risk of electric shock and exposure to dangerous materials like beryllium and mercury. Leave dismantling to professional recyclers.
- NoCURBSIDE recycling: Microwaves and other electronics are often not accepted in curbside recycling bins. Larger recyclers are equipped to properly handle them.
- Data destruction: If your microwave contains any personal data on settings/history, this should be erased before recycling. Recyclers otherwise promise to destroy sensitive information.
Following these rules is important for everyone’s safety. Contact local waste authorities if ever unsure about regulations.
The Microwave Recycling Process Explained
Once you’ve dropped off your old microwave at a recycling center, what actually happens to it?
Microwave recycling follows a specialized process to safely recover as much valuable material as possible:
1. Sorting and Dismantling
First, microwaves are systematically sorted and dismantled by hand. Workers remove components one-by-one and place them into categorized bins.
Dangerous capacitors, switches and wiring are taken out first. Any reusable or repairable parts may be set aside. Removed parts are sorted by material type.
2. Size Reduction
The dismantled microwave chassis or larger parts then move to a shredder or hammer mill to break them down into smaller pieces.
Magnets help separate out any steel pieces at this point. Plastics and non-metals continue onward for further separation.
3. Material Separation
Once the parts are shredded into small pieces, they pass through various methods of mechanical and manual material separation:
- Magnets pull out ferrous metals like steel.
- Eddy current separators remove non-ferrous metals like aluminum and copper.
- Air separation systems blow light plastic pieces apart.
- Water separation causes plastic pieces to float while metal sinks.
Advanced optical sorting technology and manual picking lines also help purify material streams.
4. Shredding and Granulation
The separated plastic, glass and metal pieces then go through additional shredding and granulation to achieve a very small, consistent size needed for recycling.
Rotating blades pulverize the pieces into tiny grains or a powder-like material ready for reprocessing.
5. Reprocessing and New Products
Finally, the tiny glass, plastic and metal materials travel to various facilities to be made into new products:
- Metals go to smelting plants and mills
- Plastics are washed, melted and pelletized into recycled resin
- Glass goes to bottling plants or fiberglass producers
These recycled materials then become fresh microwave ovens, electronics, cars, bottles, construction materials and thousands of other new products.
Below are answers to some frequently asked questions about microwave recycling:
Are microwaves recyclable?
Yes, most components of a microwave oven can be recycled, including metal, plastic, glass and wiring. Professional recyclers dismantle microwaves and send the recovered materials to processing facilities.
Do I have to pay to recycle a microwave?
Many recycling options for consumers are free or very low cost. However, some recyclers may charge a small fee to cover their processing, especially for very large volumes. Always ask about any fees when arranging recycling.
Can I put a microwave in my curbside recycling?
No, microwaves should never go in curbside bins, even if they are metal. Electronics recycling requires special handling, so microwave ovens must be brought to designated drop-off points.
Is it safe to dispose of an old microwave?
Simply throwing out a microwave with normal trash is unsafe. Hazardous materials can leak and cause environmental harm. Recycling is the only responsible way to safely manage end-of-life microwaves.
Can I bring accessories too for recycling?
Yes, any removable parts like turntables, racks, trays, filters etc. should also be brought in to be properly recycled with the main unit. Remove these before bringing the microwave for recycling.
Recycling your old or broken microwave is important for reducing harmful e-waste and protecting the environment. With so many convenient options through retailers, municipal programs, and recycling events, there is no excuse to improperly dispose of a microwave. Do your part by looking into responsible recycling in your community.
Recycling and reprocessing recovered materials also conserves resources and gives them renewed purpose. So don’t just throw out that microwave – take action today to keep our planet clean and healthy for future generations by recycling electronics responsibly. We can all make a difference through small, sustainable choices.