Did you know that all vacuums have a life expectancy? But whether you had it for one or 10 years, disposing of your vacuum the right way can be a challenge.
You may be tempted to drop it off by your recycling bin, hoping someone will pick it up. In reality, though, they’re often picked up by the city and burnt. Because vacuums can contain hazardous substances, these actions contribute to our planet’s degradation.
When unwanted, vacuums become part of the large category of electronic waste items. Also called “e-waste,” it’s considered the fastest-growing type of waste in the world (1). It’s important, then, that we know how to recycle our vacuum cleaners.
Can My Vacuum Cleaner Be Recycled?
When the time comes to dispose of our vacuums, many of us haven’t a clue of where to begin. Aside from pitching it to the curb, that is. Generally speaking, it’s important to remember that only very few items aren’t recyclable (2).
Because vacuums are made with several different materials, cases of non-recyclable devices are extremely rare. If your device can be plugged in or comes with a battery, it can be reused.
Why Recycle a Vacuum Cleaner?
The importance of recycling has been brought forward in the past few years. Today, it’s critical enough to be an integral part of political discussions. What impact does recycling your vacuum have on the big picture, and what are the benefits?
E-waste is composed of any discarded electronic product, including vacuum cleaners. Because these devices tend to have a shorter lifespan than they used to, they’re becoming a real challenge.
The consumption of electronic products per household has also increased dramatically. In the United States alone, the volume is projected to reach a total of 38 million vacuum units sold by 2023 (3).
Every year, each Canadian and American produces about 20 kilograms of e-waste. Globally, only 20 percent of electronic waste is being recycled. Even within the European Union, the leader in this field, they only report recycling 35 percent of it (4).
We — citizens and governments — should work on managing our e-waste more efficiently. Failing to do so could lead to the production of 120 million tons of e-waste by 2050 (5). This is more than double today’s amount.
2. Keeping Our Planet Clean
Up to 90 percent of your vacuum can be recycled. Metal components can be melted down to make new devices or parts. Plastic can also be reused to become car dashboards, plant pots, or even furniture.
Depolluting the Environment
Placed with the regular garbage, vacuums will likely be burnt. However, vacuums aren’t biodegradable. Like many electronic devices, they contain heavy metals such as copper, iron, or aluminum.
The toxic fumes produced when such metals are burned are harmful to the environment. Over time, they accumulate in our biosphere, soil, and water. These carcinogenic compounds also accumulate in the air we breathe (6).
Reducing Carbon Dioxide Emissions
Making new vacuums produces a large amount of carbon dioxide. Using existing resources from old devices, instead, requires much less output than building everything from scratch.
Recycling also helps to save an incredible amount of energy. One kilogram of recycled plastic can power a vacuum for 34 hours.
The metallic parts might be the recyclable portions of a vacuum saving the most energy. Usually, the amount of energy saved depends on the material used. Steel and iron on their own, represent 72 percent of energy savings.
In one year, the United States managed to recycle 89 million tons of general waste. This is enough energy to power 25 million American homes per year (7).
3. Economical Advantages
E-waste’s economic value represents about $62.5 billion yearly. That’s more than many countries’ Gross Domestic Product (8). So, recycling your vacuum also contributes to your country’s economic development.
While we may not think much about our economy, it does impact our daily lives. The recycling industry creates 757,000 jobs every year and generates almost $7 billion in tax revenue (9).
A total of 187 countries have also joined the “Basel Convention.” This convention mainly aims at exporting recycled e-waste, regulating its management. The participating countries also support third world economies in need of these parts (10).
4. Every Action Counts
These numbers might be overwhelming at first. How can recycling a small stick vacuum cleaner help the planet or my country’s economy? Believe it or not, every little bit helps.
By recycling your vacuum, you’re potentially setting an example for a family member or friend. You might even pass on the habit to the next generation. Individual efforts may create planet-wide miracles.
How to Recycle a Vacuum Cleaner
What are the options available to recycle your device? Keep in mind that any recycling method is better than not recycling.
1. Recycling Centers
As we mentioned, a large portion of vacuums can be reused, making them ideal candidates for recycling centers. Cords, hoses, body housing, and plastic parts can all be recuperated. You’ll find shampoo bottles or traffic cones made of plastic parts from vacuums.
If you’re not sure in which bin to place your device, onsite staff should be able to assist you. However, some centers have limitations on what they’re able to receive. So, we recommend checking their website and contacting them before heading to your nearest center.
2. Scrap Yards
Scrap yards may even pay you to recuperate certain metallic parts. They’re often found close to heavy industry headquarters, in suburban and urban areas.
Depending on the type of metal, you can expect to receive a few cents to a few dollars per pound. It may not be much, but you might get a free coffee out of it. They, however, may only take metallic parts, so you’d still have to find a way to recycle the other components.
You might also have to disassemble the device and separate the pieces. But don’t worry, this sounds more difficult than it really is. Even an inexperienced handyperson should be able to handle the task.
3. Electronic Stores
By offering recycling options, a few major electronic stores are doing their best to positively impact e-waste management. Some of them even offer a rebate or credit when giving your old device back (11).
4. Sell Parts
Some parts of your vacuum might continue their life without the device. Nozzles, brushes, hoses and other attachments can be washed, removed, and sold.
Don’t expect much, though — for example, a stair tool might go for just a few dollars. But when you’re on a budget, anything helps. Besides, other parts, like vacuum belts from older models can be difficult to find and are often in high demand.
5. Giving Your Vacuum a Second Life
Although your vacuum may not meet your needs anymore, it could be helpful to someone else. Given it’s still operational, of course.
Donation Centers and Local Shelters
Most donation centers and thrift stores accept vacuums, as long they’re functional and in decent condition. Common organizations such as Goodwill or Salvation Army will even pick it up from your location (12).
If your donation center doesn’t offer a pick-up service, you might want to look at “Donation Town.” Located in various cities across the United States, they’ll collect your device for free and bring it to the center of your choice (13). If helping those in need isn’t enough, some centers will even issue tax-deductible receipts.
Homeless shelters or addiction centers may also need additional cleaning devices. To find a homeless shelter in your area, an online directory is available (14).
Posting It Online
Whether you’re selling it or giving it away, the internet is a good place to advertise it. When posting online, pictures are key. Take several photos from different angles, including attachments.
If you’re unsure how much you should sell your vacuum for, look for posts of similar devices. Craigslist and eBay are popular online platforms for this purpose. If you’re giving it away, you might also want to try Freecycle (15).
Swapping events are a means of recycling within a community. They’re often organized to promote environmental or social issues. Schools, libraries and community centers are likely to coordinate this type of event.
Don’t have a swapping event happening near you? It might be a great opportunity to organize one among your friends, family, and other acquaintances.
You might even start a new trend. Not only will you get to dispose of your vacuum, but you’ll gain something in exchange.
Vacuums aren’t biodegradable and recycling them is essential. While we may not think our little vacuum can help in the big scheme of things, every single action counts.
It encourages other people to do the same, helps our economy and creates jobs. Recycling your vacuum might take you a bit longer than dropping it off by a bin, but provides countless benefits.
Do you recycle other goods? Please leave us your comments in the section below, we’d love to hear your feedback.