Fixit: Stainless steel not a problem for recycling

  • Article by: KAREN YOUSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 15, 2010 - 4:25 PM

Stainless steel is durable, easy to clean and resistant to food stains, which is why appliances made of it have long been popular in commercial kitchens, and, more recently, in home kitchens.

As for its environmental consequences?

"It's a simple question with a really complex answer," said George Bollweg, an environmental health scientist with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Chicago. There are dozens of steps involved in making stainless steel -- from mining the ore to producing the steel -- and all of these steps consume energy.

In Minnesota, some of the taconite that's mined and processed probably ends up in stainless steel products, although the final processing is done elsewhere. And, according to Gregory Pratt, a research scientist with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the taconite industry is a major source of air, land and water pollution.

However, stainless steel can be -- and is -- recycled. (According to the International Stainless Steel Forum, new stainless-steel products are made from about 60 percent recycled stainless.) Its alternative, enameled steel, also is recyclable, so stainless steel isn't significantly better or worse for the environment.

But materials aren't all that important when trying to determine how earth-friendly home appliances are. What matters most is energy efficiency, said Lise Laurin, founder of EarthShift, a Vermont company that works with corporations and institutions on sustainability.

If you want to go green, look for a high-efficiency appliance and make sure that it gets recycled at the end of its life.

Put an end to debt calls

Q I got a new cell phone number last year. Within a few weeks, calls started coming from debt collectors looking for the woman who use to have the number. It has been 10 months, and the calls have not stopped. What can I do?

A Tell them to stop calling, and get some government agencies on your side.

Get the name of the collection agencies and write to them -- it must be in writing -- telling them that it's not your debt and that they have to stop contacting you, said Ben Wogsland, spokesman for the Minnesota attorney general's office.

Then, file complaints with:

• The Minnesota Department of Commerce's Enforcement Division, which licenses collection agencies. A copy of the complaint form is at www.commerce.state.mn.us. Click on "Consumer Info And Services" in the upper left corner. Then click on "Have A Complaint?" and then on "Licensed Industries." Or call 651-296-2488 or 1-800-657-3602.

• The attorney general's Consumer Complaint Division. Go to www.ag.state.mn.us and click on "Complaint Form" at the top of the page. Or call 651-296-3353 or 1-800-657-3787.

Send your questions to Fixit in care of the Star Tribune, 425 Portland Av., Minneapolis, MN 55488, or call 612-673-7032, or e-mail fixit@startribune.com. Past columns are available at www.startribune.com/fixit. Sorry, Fixit cannot supply individual replies. Fixit appears Sundays on B3.

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