When I got married, 25 years ago, my colleagues gave us a dishwasher as a wedding present; we are still using it. Last year I had to throw away a washing machine that was only 4 years old as it had disintegrated inside. Why do modern appliances wear out so quickly? I know that we are all supposed to be part of the consumer society these day, and that manufacturers have a vested interest in getting us to replace perfectly good devices with newer, ‘better’ ones, and that built in obsolescence has been with us since the light bulb was invented. But why, oh why, can’t we have an option? I suppose I could have paid $8,000 for a new washing machine that would probably last at least 8 years, but resigned myself to one half that price in the hope it would too. Who knows if that was the right choice?
What this brings me on to is the main point of this rant. What to do with the old machine? In Europe the seller of consumer items such as TVs, washing machines, fridges etc has an obligation to take back not only the packaging of the new item but also the old replaced item for proper disposal. The company that I bought my new machine from did indeed take away my old one, for $200, but could not give me any assurances about how it would be disposed of; I can imagine it ended up in the landfill at Tseung Kwan O, or even spirited across the border for what’s left of it for spare parts. Whilst pondering all this one of my compact fluorescent lamps stopped working. Now we all know that these lamps have dangerous levels of mercury in them, but how to dispose? Our village waste disposal area does not have a separate bin for glass – just like everywhere else in Hong Kong. The consequences of this can be seen most Monday mornings when there is a long line of empty wine bottles on the ground by the bins by the bus stop. (I’m not accusing my neighbours of being more libidinous than anywhere else in Sai Kung, maybe just a bit tidier).
TVs are another bug bear. Recently one of our lcd TVs stopped working. It was out of warranty so Fortress was not interested. I called the suppliers, and they told me that they did not have stock of any spare parts, and as it was so cheap anyway, to throw it away and buy a new one! I took it to the local tv repair guy, who essentially told me the same thing. Luckily I’m bit of an electronics nerd, so I took it apart and was able to figure out that it was a $5 part broken. Going on to AliExpress I found a supplier but they wanted to sell me 100 minimum! In the end I found someone selling me a reconditioned complete printed circuit board for $100 – and it’s still working. And please don’t get me started on the shenanigans that I had just a few months ago to get a fairly new wine fridge repaired. That proved impossible – and another $200 to have it taken away, and, hopefully, properly disposed of. When will this madness end?
And as for the light bulb – well, before moving to the village we used the disposal bins placed in electrical shops such as Fortress and some supermarkets. But the closest one is now many km away and I must admit I have not seen such a bin in Wellcome or Fusion in Sai Kung, or anywhere else selling CFLs, recently. (I may be wrong – please correct me). So we wrapped it up, put it in a plastic zip bag and put it in the rest of the rubbish.
And then what happens – well we all know; everything that’s in separate bins gets put into the same garbage truck. We are told, via the media, that it’s all separated again at the waste processing plant – but I have yet to meet anyone that has actually seen this taking place. One the one hand it’s nice to have your rubbish taken away every day, but quite disturbing to not know what happens to it.
Look for further articles on recycling in future BUZZs – Ed.