I was reminded that I always wondered just exactly how a toaster works. Because they have a plug, I should know this. They don't have mercury in them. How does the toaster know when to pop up? I realized that this was one of the moments I dread, like an icy hand on the back of my neck, when my kids ask me how something ordinary works. I'm 48, I'm an electronics recycler, and I don't know how a toaster works.
Quick, online. There's "HowStuffWorks.com"... Ok, forget how bad a job the site did on "e-waste" chapter. (Repeating false allegations by BAN. If BAN is a non-profit, and expresses angst for poor people, it does not mean that BAN statements are true. The site should cite itself as an example of how propaganda works.. but I digress. Back to the toaster). Wikipedia also has a very informative article on toasters. (Did you know that some students put frozen fish sticks in a toaster? Gee!)
Whoa! The heating elements are a nickel chromium alloy! Nickel is a rare earth metal which should NOT get thrown away. In a life-cycle analysis, the nickel in a toaster is probably more important to recycle than the steel in a toaster!
That reminds me of the wise words of Goodwill Industries of the Berkshires director Tom Speckert, when I worked with him to set up e-waste collections in the 1990s. He told about how you cannot afford to hire a repairman if the cost of the new product is lower than a certain amount, and the example he used was repairing a toaster. Easy to repair, nothing overly technical. But you cannot pay a guy to repair (or even test) a toaster that you sell for $5.
So if Goodwill or Salvation Army gets your toaster, they are either going to recycle it, or sell it to an exporter. I know a Haitian woman who buys all kinds of containerloads of goodies from Salvation Army. She accepts toasters. The toasters she buys get exported to Haiti.
Ok, my muffin popped up. Not brown enough. Back down, again. I need to wrap this up.
Is a Toaster E-Waste? Should EPA have a "Toaster Rule"? What does a BAN-Certified E-Steward do with a toaster? Can Dell pay for an e-waste program which allows toasters to be exported to Haiti, but not laptops or CRT monitors?
First things first - a household toaster does NOT contain mercury.
But a modern toaster DOES have a small circuit board!
What is the bottom line for recycling an e-waste toaster?
- Circuit board means an e-Steward cannot throw a toaster into scrap metal.
- Circuit board means you must fix the toaster before exporting it (Sorry, Goodwill).
- Nickel means that if you remove the heating filament, you should send it to a precious metal recycler.
So is the solution Product Stewardship? Should there be a law passed that toasters must be taken back by the companies that made and sold the toasters? I doubt there are any toasters made in the USA. This site says nope.
If you cannot design a policy that works for toasters, how good is your policy going to be for computers?