Throwing away an old fridge isn't as easy as it used to be.

For decades, appliances were handled and recycled by scrap yards. However, recent changes in environmental regulations have spurred the development of new re-cycling strategies.

One of the most successful appliance recycling programs in the country has been organized by Waste Management of Alameda County, Calif. (WMAC), and an Oakland, Calif.-based recycling center operated by the Appliances Recycling Centers of America (ARCA), Minneapolis. Together, in 1995, they recycled more than 11,300 appliances for the county's residents and businesses (see chart).

Nearly 1,000 tons of materials including metal,chlorofluorocarbons (CFC), hy-drochlorofluorocarbons (HCFC), refrigerants, used oils and mercury were recovered and recycled, and ca-pacitors and ballasts were sent to a federally licensed PCB disposal facility. In addition, reclaimed refrigerants were used in air conditioning units in WMAC's truck fleet and heavy equipment.

Through its contract with ARCA, WMAC's customers receive at least one appliance management choice at every division in the county. Three facilities accept discarded appliances.

Since no databases or manuals identify which brands or models of appliances require special handling, all discarded appliances must be inspected. To ensure compliance with all regulations and to minimize risk of on-site contamination, ARCA has sole responsibility for the county's appliances and processes them at its facility.

Appliance processing and recycling is currently regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection A-gency (EPA), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Department of Transpor-tation. In addition, these federal a-gencies regulate the transportation and management of CFCs/HCFCs, new substitute refrigerants, PCBs, used oils and mercury.

Penalties for violations of the federal Clean Air Act, which prohibits the venting of refrigerants, including substitute refrigerants, can run as high as $25,000 per occurrence.

State regulations vary, though many states regulate used oils, which are found in appliances containing refrigerants and in washing machines. In California, for example, through the implementation of the Metallic Discards Management Act (effective January 1, 1994), California EPA's Department of Toxic Substances Control regulates CFCs/HCFCs, sulfur dioxide (SO2), PCBs, mercury, used oils and metals.

Large appliances make up 1.7 percent of the nation's waste stream, with nearly three million tons of appliances (35 million units) discarded annually, according to the EPA. In 1990, the agency estimated that 7 percent of these materials were being recycled.

More than 55 million major appliances, with an anticipated useful life of 12 to 14 years, reportedly were replaced in 1995. The life cycle, however, is extended several more years when the used appliances are resold.

The appliances in the solid waste stream are diverse, manufactured by dozens of companies from 1940 to 1990. Changing designs, costs, materials' availability, manufactured components and regulations also impact the waste stream's complexity.

ARCA's appliance processing and recycling program reportedly complies with all federal and state regulations and includes services to manage:

* appliances containing CFCs, HCFCs, SO2 or substitute refrigerants; and

* appliances requiring inspection/removal of other special materials, including lubricating oil, mercury, and/or polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB).

Other services include: year-round scheduled appointments for curbside and in-home/business appliance collection; scheduled community cleanup events; customer drop-off options at landfills and transfer stations; and daily, weekly or monthly quantity pickup services.

WMAC and ARCA recommend that when selecting an appliance management vendor, you should receive copies of all permits, licenses and in-surance certificates. This information and insurance, including pollution legal liability insurance, are es-sential to protect you and your customers from po-tential risks. Further, you should visit the vendor's site to ensure that it meets all federal and state re-quirements.

For more information regarding appliance management services, contact Ann Ludwig, Appliance Recycling Centers of America Inc., (510) 653-2466 or Kevin McCarthy, Waste Management of Alameda County, (510) 563-4214.