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Waste Not, Want Not. Transformer Disposal Focuses On Recycling

Transformers are essential for the distribution of electrical power but what happens when they've outlived their usefulness and need to be retired or replaced? What are your options in transformer disposal and what does transformer disposal look like?

As it turns out, transformers are highly recyclable. With a little effort, patience, and know-how transformers can be safely and responsibly recycled and you might even make some money off of them to boot!


Finding Value Where It Is Often Missed
 
Some people see an old transformer and worry about how they will ever be able to get rid of it. Recyclers have a much different reaction. Transformers are a recycler's dream. Almost everything in these electrical boxes can be reused or recycled: the exterior is typically made of steel; the interior often also has a steel core, though sometimes it is an iron core; and metal alloys and copper wires can be found inside the unit. Even the oils inside the unit can often be reclaimed and reused.

Steel is one of the most valued metals for recycling. It can be recycled indefinitely, over and over again into many different things, with no degradation in performance. Steel is North America's most recycled material with more of it being recycled every year than paper, plastic, aluminum and glass combined.

There is always a market for steel, which makes transformer disposal a bit easier to manage.

Recycling Old Transformers
 
It is possible for used transformers to be sold to other businesses or resellers for re-use elsewhere, but it's more common for obsolete transformers to be sold for scrap metal. Transformers can be dismantled and the parts or base metals sold piece by piece to different recyclers, smelters, or scrap metal dealers for cash.

There's a strong market for steel, copper, and metal alloys. It's harder to dispose of the oils and fluids that are used in transformers. They can't just be tossed out. Disposal of these fluids requires adherence to state and federal hazardous waste disposal laws, which the average business isn't equipped to manage. Most turn to special service providers to handle this responsibility for them.

One of the biggest concerns with the oils found in older transformers is high levels of PCBs. Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were often used in electrical transformers that were manufactured between 1929 and 1977. PCBs are toxic and do not biodegrade making disposal of PCB contaminated oils particularly difficult.

Specialty disposal services are often able to chemically remove PCBs from the oil, recycle used transformer oil, and resell it as a blend grade or a transformer grade oil. If the oil cannot be reused or reclaimed, such services are equipped to dispose of the oil in a way that does not harm the environment.

Like many things, transformer value is often found in the eye of the beholder. What is of little to no value or is even considered a liability to some, may be the basis of the next person's business! If you've got an old or unused transformer that needs to be removed from your place of business, don't look at it as a liability! With a little bit of research, you are certain to find a way to get rid of your transformer in a way that benefits others and harms none.
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