Yesterday, we called it junk. Today, people have discovered that it is a kind of treasure--and part of a new environmental consciousness. I'm talking about something recyclers call "white goods"--stoves, fridges, washers, TVs, even toasters.
On the upside: An old stove that resembles a '59 Cadillac fetches hundreds of dollars, a rebuilt fridge can bring $150. Nowadays, there's new value in old stuff.
This trend is also part of the solution to the landfill problem. County waste analyst Jeff Bowling and I crunched some numbers and calculated that county residents probably have enough unused or broken refrigerators in their homes to take up every legal parking space on Ventura's main street.
According to a study out of MIT, each year Americans throw away enough TVs, including repairable sets and even some in working order, to form a line of blank screens from Ventura to Vancouver.
Bowling wants to keep such white goods out of the local landfill.
"Without efforts to reduce the volume we're putting into our main county facility, we'll reach legal capacity in 18 months," Bowling said. The county, however, is filing for permission from the state to carry on beyond then. But in the meantime, Bowling and his colleagues at the Ventura County Solid Waste Management Department are trying all kinds of things to cut the growth of the trash heap by half.
"Recycling is better than disposal. Reuse is better than recycling," according to Donella Meadows, a professor of environmental studies who was quoted in the same MIT-based study.
And closer to home, Sonoma County recycling expert Pavitra Crimmel, characterizing her efforts to keep old appliances out of the landfill, said, "We're here to support the repair and resale business." Her job is to operate a sort of county-owned thrift shop at the landfill.
Victoria Hand, manager of the recycling section of the Solid Waste Management Department, the county's chief waste-watcher, said, "I like what they're doing in Sonoma and I want to bring the program here."
Meanwhile, she's devised a program to cut down on the dumping of white goods and other reusables by compiling and promoting two excellent reuse and resale directories. Her research indicates that county residents are diverting 1,700 tons of recyclables per year via resale and donations. She hopes, however, to substantially increase that figure.
The first thing we should do, of course, is keep our appliances in good repair. I use the Yellow Pages and call around for quotes. Also, I've used a resource the state provides to inform me if a repair shop is registered and inspected.
If it turns out that your appliance is beyond repairing and is only good for its scrap-metal value, there can still be an environmentally happy end for it. Ferrous scrap (70% of white goods' content) is the lifeblood of a hardy new American smelting industry.
"Mini-mills" are springing up around the country in places such as Sacramento and Orlando, where the population growth has meant a proliferation of scrap iron (old appliances and cars). If you can't find any other home for your white goods, call Oxnard Metals, the local member of the Institute of Scrap Recyclers Inc.
Victoria Hand's recycling directories also mention that you should first consider listing reusable items in the local classified ads. I called to see if there was any trend here.
"Interest in this kind of thing is way up this year," said Mark Burroughs of the Ventura edition of the Recycler. "Over the last 18 months, used appliance ads are up 16% . . . and 80% of these things sell."
Sherry Banks of The Times Ventura County Edition classifieds said, "Voluntary sales of this kind of used merchandise is up 16.87%." I asked her to explain "voluntary sales."
"Oh, they're the unsolicited ones," she said. Volunteerism with a practical twist, I thought.
Maybe it's the economy, maybe it's a desire to be eco-helpful. But people are evidently giving a second chance to things that used to be junk.
For free copies of the recently compiled "Ventura County Thrift Store Directory" and "Recycling Centers in Ventura County," some with free pickup and delivery, call (805) 654-2889.
For recycling of items that you believe have scrap-metal value, Oxnard Metal Co. will refer you to a pickup service, or if you bring the items in yourself will pay you half a cent a pound. For more information, call (805) 483-0512.
To find out if a repair shop in your neighborhood is registered and inspected by the state Bureau of Electronics and Appliance Repair, call (916) 445-4751.