Tuesday, November 3, 2009

What to do with my old Haier HDT18PA countertop dishwasher? e-waste concerns

I've had this HDT18PA dishwasher for a few years. The space crunch in a small cottage in downtown mountain view caused me to get this compact dishwasher. It fits with the idea of living in a house no bigger than one needs, to use appliances that are no bigger than one needs. The reasoning goes that if we can get our life accomplished with smaller scale housing and other gizmos smaller scale house, that it would make a positive environmental impact by reducing the negative impact of our life.

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However this phase of the saga of my HDT18PA is illustrative of some problems with modern gizmos. Namely - gizmos one might buy in an effort to save energy, live with less impact, etc, can negate the hoped for savings by breaking earlier than desired.

The HDT18PA dishwasher worked well for seven years or so. It provided nearly flawless service, the only quibble I have with it is its small size means it doesn't work well for large items like the big frying pan or with large pots. Those however are easily washed in the sink anyway. There are several models of Portable Dishwashers (on amazon.com) on the market, I just happened to have bought this one.

While browsing (recently) the portable dishwasher pages on amazon.com I noticed several customers grumbled that theirs leaked like crazy. This was true for several brands and models. This is what happened with my HDT18PA - after 7 years, that is.

I noticed, hey, the floor is wet. Noticed, hey, there's a bunch of water coming out the bottom of the dishwasher. Hey, why isn't it making huge sparks and electrocuting itself to have all that water pouring out? Yeah, that's the amazing part of this episode is the amount of water pouring out of the dishwasher without any electrical malfunction.

My first step was to take it apart to see if it could be fixed. In retrospect that was a long waste of time but it does illustrate a desirable thing to do. Why aren't more appliances fixable by regular people? And why isn't it more commonplace to repair gizmos rather than just throw them away to get a new one? I'll talk further below about the repair attempts.

This particular gizmo was purchased to aid my quest to be greener than average. But here I am only 7 years later having replaced it (the upright HDT18PA above is the new one) and looking at how to properly dispose of it. Ideally appliances like dishwashers will last essentially forever and 7 years is a short lifetime.

One unfortunate aspect is that the parts for HDT18PA's are unavailable. I searched through several parts catalogs online. There is an amazing set of appliance parts stores online some of whom have parts diagrams to help you know you're picking the correct part etc. Unfortunately parts for the HDT18PA have been discontinued. The repair would have been very easy to fix (as can be seen below) if the replacement part were buyable. Unfortunately the part wasn't available.

I found a used HDT18PA on eBay (the new one pictured above) and had an idea to strip the old one of any useful parts. But that raised the question of how to dispose of the carcass of the old HDT18PA.

My local area includes Palo Alto and Mountain View, both of which have enough green conscious people that there are excellent e-waste recycling programs. Here's a bit that I found while searching:-

Green Citizen is a commercial e-waste recycling business with several locations in the area. They have services for recycling "electronics" but don't make it clear whether they include "appliances" in the category of "electronics". If they were to accept my old dishwasher it would have cost me $0.50 per pound which would have been a $20 or so fee. BTW the Green Citizen website has some excellent resources about e-waste etc.

eRecycle.org is a general information site about e-waste. The information is extensive and excellent. They have a search thingymajig to help you find a recycling facility, but the categories you search for does not include appliances like this. The categories include several kinds of computers, TV or computer displays, PDA's, etc. This is why I asked above whether the definition of "electronics" includes appliances of this sort.

Recycle Works is a program of San Mateo County. It has a bunch of information about programs and whatnot. It includes a search widget to aid finding a recycling program, and their search thingymajig includes a category for small appliances. The search results include not just safe disposal locations but places to donate the gizmo so others can directly reuse it.

The City of Palo Alto Recycling Center is excellent and does take a variety of things like appliances. I've emailed them a query about accepting my dishwasher and they've not responded yet.

Mountain View's e-Waste program is also excellent. As that is where I live, I called them up for information. Turns out as a Mtn View resident I can, three times a year, schedule for disposal of large items. They'll take it somewhere for safe disposal. This is the choice I've taken. Just put it on the curb next to the trash and they send around a special truck for pickup.

I asked on twitter what to do and got back a couple responses. One was if it still has life in it (this doesn't) that Freecycle is an excellent way to hand the object off to someone else. Other ideas like this is the places Green Citizen recommended like Goodwill or other charity organizations. Another place would be the "Free" section of Craigslist.

Repair attempts

Can't find a picture of the malfunctioning part, but here's a picture of one of the repair attempts.

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This plastic objects performs a tube-like function. It's made of two pieces of plastic fused together and it forms a channel that carries water from a pipe that comes up the back of the dishwasher, sending that water to the top sprayer. It's a pretty ingenious way to make the dishwasher more compact but it unfortunately can break easily. In this case the two halves split a little, allowing water to leak out in massive quantities.

The amazing part is again, the water leaking from this top tube was pouring over some of the wiring and not causing any electrical mishaps. That to me says some good things about Haier's design.

What I tried was several ways of gluing this together. The hope was to get this part sealed up so it wouldn't leak, put the dishwasher back together, and get another seven years use out of it. No joy even after trying several kinds of glue which promised they were extra strong, or would weld plastic together, or were for plumbing use.

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This is the gap which had to be filled. The black tube on the left comes up the back of the dishwasher, and the plastic thingymajig connects from the black tube to that hole in the middle. One idea I had was to simply block the tube and not use the upper sprayer at all. However after having watched this dishwasher in action several times, it's amazing how much pressure builds in the upper tube. The reason all the repair attempts failed was because of the high pressure. Most would work for awhile then spring a leak somewhere. The zip ties in the earlier picture were an attempt to hold it together with all that pressure. Nothing worked.

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The new one in place being happily used. But given that I know parts for this have been discontinued, I'll be surprised if this one lasts very long. Fortunately I already know what to do with it once it dies and is unrepairable.