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Darrell Berkheimer: About our waste and possible second uses

Darrell Berkheimer
Columnist
Darrell Berkheimer
Laura Mahaffy/lmahaffy@theunion.com | The Union

I have a story to tell about our wastefulness.

It’s not a new story. Probably every household — every reader who sees this story — can relate one or more similar stories about some of our modern products.

It’s about how our society builds numerous appliances and other products, knowing they will be discarded — thrown into the landfill — perhaps after only a dozen years of use. And that’s if we’re lucky to get a dozen years out of them.

Today’s story is about a refrigerator, one discarded after 11 years of use even though it basically continued to work quite well. But spouse Mary refused to endure any more repair calls and the frequent frustrations it created.

What a sad commentary on our society when still-usable large appliances are junked.

Most of the problems, and certainly the biggest frustrations, resulted from an icemaker and dispenser that clogged in two different places. Ice would jam in the maker at the top of the freezer area. And ice would jam in the tub on the inside of the door dispenser.

Over time, it was learned that a jam in the icemaker usually just required opening the small door in front and knocking a chunk of ice loose.

But a frozen clog inside the tub would not allow the rotating rod to break loose pieces of ice into the dispenser chute, and the tub would appear frozen in place. It took brute strength to shake the tub a fraction of an inch from side-to-side to dislodge it, which inevitably would result in a mess of ice chunks on the kitchen floor when the tub finally came loose.

Mary could not do that herself. The clogs resulted in repair calls.

Finally, she learned she could handle the problem herself. But each clog meant scooping out nearly a bucket full of ice – and pouring hot water through the tub after placing towels on the floor.

Eventually, the motor operating the rotating rod had to be replaced. And then there was the time the water line clogged, creating a half-inch thick sheet of ice in the freezer bottom.

Other than those issues, the refrigerator normally worked quite well.

And after I came into Mary’s life, I was able to dislodge the ice tub, merely causing some chunks to fly to the floor.

But the growing aggravations – after 11 years – finally tipped Mary’s grievances too far into “anger-and-replace mode.” So when she saw an early November advertisement, offering nearly $700 off on a new fridge — one she already had seen and liked — she ordered it immediately. It has a bottom freezer and icemaker, and with 4 more cubic feet of total refrigerator space.

I guess it’s not unusual for many folks, when they see such a big bargain, to provide themselves with an early Christmas gift.

I thought she was over-reacting. Except for the ice clogging, it was a good fridge. And I was willing to continue dealing with those nuisance clogs. For Mary, however, they were a major source of irritation.

I actually considered a new fridge an unnecessary expense. But it was her decision. And without giving much thought, I guess I subconsciously figured the old fridge would get a second life with a low-income household that could not afford a new one.

Someone could still get a lot of use out of it if they just turned off the icemaker and put in a couple ice trays.

Call me naïve if you like; but the delivery of the new fridge presented me with quite a shock and considerable consternation when I was forced to realize the old one would be junked.

The two-man crew was highly efficient as they were here little more than a half-hour to remove the old and install the new. As I watched their methodical moves with minimum wasted effort, I asked and learned they had 13 deliveries scheduled that day.

Their hurry led me to believe they simply overlooked taking along the ice dispenser tub and two inside drawers that should have gone with the old fridge.

My disgust grew as a couple days passed with their failure to return to collect the missing items – now merely three large items of junked plastic. And I began wondering just how many still-operating large appliances were being taken to a landfill every week.

I mentioned the issue to our neighbors, who remarked they had a very old second fridge in their garage that worked quite well. When I asked how old, the wife informed me it was purchased by her parents the year she was born – in 1938.

So that still-working fridge is 81 years old!

Then she told me they had a similar experience only a few weeks earlier when they had a new stove delivered, replacing the one that came with the house when they bought it. Because the old stove still worked quite well, she asked what would happen to it – and was told it would be junked.

“I thought surely they would get $50, or maybe even $100 for it,” she said.

What a sad commentary on our society when still-usable large appliances are junked.

That’s not the type of message that I like to report at Christmas time. At this time of year, when giving is emphasized, wouldn’t it be better to offer still-working appliances for free — or at a minimum fee — through some agency, or thrift store?

Maybe I’m wrong, but I suspect the number of similar stories that local readers could report would boggle my mind. Surely I’m not the only one who feels disgusted over thoughts of such waste!

And should we be sharing a certain amount of blame for the situation if we don’t spend a little effort trying to locate someone who would be happy to get the old appliance?

I’m aware that local radio stations and newspapers often provide free space when people have good, still-usable units to give away. Isn’t that worth a try?

Darrell Berkheimer, who lives in Grass Valley, is a frequent contributor to The Union. He is the author of six books available through Amazon. His latest, “Essays from The Golden Throne,” includes 60 columns published by The Union, plus a dozen travel and photo essays. Contact him at mtmrnut@yahoo.com.


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