Spend it Better: A new life for old washing machines

Ger Whyte went exploring the Silvermines mountains and came back with 13 washing machines, all of them dumped off remote roads

A  washing machine drum that has been turned  into a fire pit

A washing machine drum that has been turned into a fire pit

 

Ger Whyte found a 20-year-old washing machine in the woods during the first lockdown, dragged it out, brought it home and took a sledgehammer to it. Dismantling-by-sledgehammer felt therapeutic but left an almighty mess to pick up. So with the next machine he took a more methodical approach, detaching panels and taking components apart to get to the bit that he wanted. 

Whyte turns washing machine drums into fire pits. They look like art pieces, the orange fire glowing through holes where suds and water once flowed. 

On a visit to his home place near Roscrea he went exploring the Silvermines and came back with 13 washing machines in a trailer, all of them dumped off remote roads in the mountains along with umpteen fridges and freezers. 

Whyte has no background in white goods. He’s a social worker by day, and calls his new found hobby creating glowing conversation pieces “a nice little mind switcher-off-er”, especially after a challenging case. 

His wife, Sarah, has turned one into a decorative piece, leaving the purple iridescent finish you get after an initial seasoning burn and creating a wall-mounted log store. Her sister has turned one into the base of a coffee table, topping it with a simple round of concrete.

Most washing machines are suitable to have their drums reimagined as fire pits but they need to have a sturdy metal wheel to form the base, Whyte explains. Washing machines from the midlands are “a nightmare” because of the limescale caused by hard water. A soak in vinegar and a vigorous scrub will usually clear it. 

Mass recycling of washing machines involves shipping them to China rather than dismantling them locally. Repair is the far better option than recycling, and last month a new free training course was launched to train a new generation of repair men and women in an alliance between the white goods industry, WEEE Ireland and FIT (Fastrack to Information Technology).

Training courses for repair technicians were discontinued more than a decade ago so a bottleneck has built up where the supply of repairers doesn’t meet the demand. This often makes it easier, despite the environmental havoc, to chuck a machine rather than have it fixed. The free course starts in September. https://fit.ie/circular-economy-skills-initiative/

It’s another reminder that the circular economy provides local job opportunities in the way that a disposable culture simply doesn’t. And even if the appliance cannot be fixed some parts can be repurposed in creative ways. Industrial launderette machines can make nifty pizza ovens.

In the meantime Ger Whyte will be tinkering away in his workshop on his lost and found machines and you can order one of his €60 fire pits on 086 3520671.

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