Globally, we generate 53.6 million metric tonnes of e-waste every year, and the biggest component of this is small equipment like vacuum cleaners, fans, toasters, kettles, and microwaves.
It’s important to know how to dispose of a microwave responsibly to protect the environment, your health, and the health of others.
How to dispose of a microwave oven safely
If you’re like almost every American household, you probably have a microwave. What’s more, you probably upgrade your microwave every five years or so – so what do you do with the old one? You’re probably wondering how to dispose of a microwave when you don’t need it anymore.
In most states, it’s illegal (not to mention irresponsible) to leave an old microwave sitting on the curbside with your trash. There are a number of environmental and health concerns associated with simply tossing a microwave away.
Many of these appliances contain lead, mercury and other hazardous materials, which can pollute the environment and may pose a threat to human health. Throwing a microwave in the trash is also a waste of the precious metals it contains, leading to more destructive mining of the world’s limited resources.
For all these reasons, it’s important to either recycle your old microwave or make sure that it’s reused – read on for the best ways to dispose of it responsibly.
How to dispose of a microwave but recycling
This is definitely the most eco-friendly option for getting rid of an old microwave. Recycling limits pollution from waste as well as saves the earth’s precious resources by reusing as many materials as possible.
You could take your old microwave to the dump or leave it out for bulk collection by your local municipality, but it will probably end up in landfill if you do this. So, if you want to be kind to the environment, you should look for ways to recycle the appliance.
In order to be recycled, microwaves need to be dismantled by trained professionals following specific safety procedures. These experts take the microwave apart and sort the components into useful and sellable parts.
Therefore, one of the best ways to responsibly dispose of a microwave is to give it to an e-waste recycling center.
Recycling programs for microwaves typically try to repair, sell, or donate old microwaves in the first instance. Everything left over, they use for parts or break up and sell the materials.
You can look for a recycling center in your area that accepts e-waste by using one of these search tools:
If you live in California, you can check CalRecycle’s site to find organizations that take e-waste.
In the search tool, choose the type of item you want to recycle (“microwaves”, or if not listed try “e-waste”), then enter your zipcode to find appropriate recycling centers in your area.
After disassembling the microwave, e-waste recyclers typically sort the components into ferrous and non-ferrous materials, usually using a magnet to pick up the magnetic metallic parts. Metal components are smelted down for reselling, while plastic parts and batteries are sent to recycling centers that specialize in those types of materials.
If there aren’t any e-waste recycling centers near you, or you can’t transport your old microwave to a drop off point easily, you could use a mail-in recycling program instead like Green Citizen. These generally charge a small fee to recycle your e-waste.
Some retailers (mostly big-box stores) also offer take-back programs. Best Buys will take your old microwave and arrange to recycle it, but only when you buy a new microwave from them.
Contact big box stores or appliance retailers in your area to see if they accept microwaves and under what conditions.
Many manufacturers, including Bosch, GE, and LG also run recycling programs, though they typically will only accept e-waste from their own brand. LG has a mail-back recycling program that is free throughout the USA.
Check the website of the brand that made your microwave to see if they run any kind of recycling program.
How to dispose of a microwave by donating it
Are you upgrading to a newer model or moving house, but your old microwave still works fine? In this case, donating it could be a great solution.
Here are some ideas for where to donate your old microwave:
- To a friend or family member who’s moving out of home or going to college
- Charities such as homeless shelters or women’s refuges
- Local schools
- Local giveaway groups on Facebook
Never give non-functional or unsafe electronics away – not only are you just transferring the problem to someone else, but you could be putting someone’s health at risk!
How to dispose of a microwave: sell it for parts
It’s not too hard to find people interested in buying certain parts of old microwaves, including the magnetron, transformer, and rotating glass tray. You can earn a bit of cash from selling these parts, though you won’t get a lot of money.
Try electronics shops or appliance repair companies in your area, who may want your old microwave for parts. They may even be able to repair your microwave and sell it on.
You may need to call around to find somewhere that will take old or broken microwaves, but it’s worth giving it a try.
How to dispose of a microwave: sell it on
Again, this solution only works if your microwave is in perfect condition. You could list your microwave online so that someone else can get use out of it, and get a little money in return at the same time.
Here are some sites that you can use to sell second-hand appliances:
It’s also worth checking Facebook for any buy and sell groups in your local area.
There’s a lot of misinformation around recycling electronics and household appliances, so we’ve answered some of the most commonly asked questions about how to dispose of a microwave.
Is it safe to throw a microwave in the trash?
No – it is not safe to throw a microwave in the trash. Sending appliances and electronics to landfill is not only bad for the environment, but you could also be risking the health of other people. Furthermore, dumping a microwave is illegal in some states and localities, and you could face a hefty fine.
Do old microwaves leak radiation?
Damaged or worn out microwaves can leak radiation in some circumstances, for example, if the door seals are broken or otherwise damaged.
Microwaves work by generating microwave radiation that heats your food rapidly. This is a low-risk form of radiation, as opposed to the more dangerous and concerning radiation with different wavelengths, such as x-rays and gamma rays.
Furthermore, most of the radiation stays inside the microwave while it’s operating, so the small amount of microwaves that leak from a well-functioning appliance is not a cause for concern.
However, if the door seals are damaged, this can allow greater amounts of radiation to escape, which could start to represent a health concern, especially with ongoing use.
Microwaves can leak no more than “5 milliwatts (mW) or microwave radiation per square centimeter at approximately two inches from the oven surface” throughout their lifetime.FDA
All microwaves on sale in the US must comply with these limits, which the FDA says is “far below” the levels known to be harmful to human health. However, you can only be guaranteed that they will continue to do so as long as they remain undamaged and in good condition.
If you look after your microwave, you can expect it to last at least seven years before it starts showing signs of wear or doesn’t work very well anymore.
Warning signs to look out for include:
- Any visible damage or severe wear, particularly to the door seals
- Food isn’t heating or cooking properly anymore
- Strange sounds or smells while the microwave is operating
- Smoke or sparks while cooking
If you notice any of these signs, you’re best to replace your microwave and dispose of it responsibly. In the case of smoke, sparks or if you smell burning, immediately unplug and turn off the microwave and keep it that way!
Can I disassemble a microwave at home?
No, it’s not safe to disassemble a microwave yourself. This should be done by trained professionals with the proper safety equipment.
Firstly, microwave ovens are high-voltage appliances that can deliver up to 4200 volts through its secondary coil, and as well as high voltages on the capacitor. Both of these components can carry a high charge even when unplugged that may give a dangerous electric shock.
Every microwave also has an in-built magnetron, a vacuum tube with powerful magnets, that produces the microwaves that heat your food. The magnetron and its components are not dangerous in themselves, but the ceramic insulator that encases them is.
This is made from beryllium oxide, a type of ceramic that can be carcinogenic when inhaled.
Instead of trying to take your microwave apart yourself, take it to a recycling center or appliance repair shop.
As an appliance that we replace semi-regularly and can contain toxic components, it’s important to know how to dispose of a microwave responsibly. Thankfully, there are many ways to get rid of your old kitchen appliances.
If your microwave is in good working order, consider selling it online or donating it to a worthy cause. Otherwise, you can take it to an e-waste recycling center, send it to a mail-in recycling program, recycle through a big-box retailer, or sell it for parts.