The average life of a refrigerator is 10 to 15 years. If you anticipate needing a replacement soon, buying a new model is just the first step. The other crucial aspect is figuring out how to recycle your old refrigerator responsibly.
In this guide, we’ll explore current refrigerator recycling options that minimally impact the environment.
Why recycle a refrigerator?
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that nearly all of a refrigerator’s durable materials can be recycled. This includes metal cabinets, plastic liners and glass shelves. Instead of taking hundreds of years to decompose in a landfill, these materials can be given new life when recycled.
Hazardous components of a refrigerator
Refrigerants, insulating foam and other hazardous materials found in refrigerators pose risks like ozone depletion and environmental harm. Refrigerator recycling helps ensure that these harmful materials are properly disposed of. Take a closer look at each component and why it’s important to let a professional dispose of them:
Refrigerants: Refrigerators and freezers manufactured before 1995 can contain chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) refrigerant, a substance that destroys the ozone layer if released into the environment. Units manufactured after 1995 typically contain hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants, which are ozone-friendly but are still greenhouse gases that require careful handling.
Insulating foam: Fridges and freezers made before 2005 use foam that contains ozone-depleting substances (ODS). Units made since then contain foam-blowing agents that are ozone-friendly.
Other hazardous materials: The cooling circuit’s used oil can be contaminated with ODS refrigerant. Mercury-containing components, like relays and switches, can be found in some fridges and chest freezers made before 2000. And appliances made before 1979 could harbor polychlorinated biphenyl capacitors. These materials should all be removed safely and carefully.
Before refrigerator recycling, explore alternatives
When deciding the fate of your old refrigerator, you have several options: donating it, giving it away, selling it or recycling it. The first three options not only extend the life of the appliance but also help someone in your community who may not be able to afford a new refrigerator.
Can you donate your refrigerator?
If your refrigerator is still in good working condition, organizations like Habitat for Humanity, the Salvation Army and St. Vincent de Paul may be able to take your appliance donation. Make sure to contact your local chapter to ask about acceptance and if they offer free pickup.
You can also contact other local organizations to see if your working refrigerator could be of use to someone in need.
Can you give away your refrigerator?
Whether your refrigerator is working or in need of some repairs, there may be people in your community interested in taking it off your hands.
A good place to start is listing your refrigerator in your local Buy Nothing group on Facebook. This grassroots movement helps neighbors exchange goods for free. Another way to find a recipient is to advertise its availability on your neighborhood’s Nextdoor app or other mediums (newsletter, mailbox fliers, etc.).
Can you sell your refrigerator?
In good condition, your fridge could net you some extra cash. List it on common sites such as Facebook Marketplace, OfferUp, or consider having a garage sale. Provide clear photos, and be transparent about the unit’s condition and any flaws.
How to get rid of a fridge responsibly
If donating, giving away or selling your refrigerator is not feasible, you will find yourself asking, “Where can I recycle a refrigerator?” To answer this, you’ll need to find a local recycling facility capable of handling refrigerator disposal. Not all recycling centers specialize in refrigerator disposal, so some research and inquiries may be necessary, and a hauling fee may apply.
Contact a Responsible Appliance Disposal (RAD) partner
The EPA provides a database of RAD partners and affiliates located across the U.S. RAD partners work with recyclers and recycling facilities capable of properly processing refrigerator units. These partners, ranging from retailers and utilities to local governments and waste removal service providers, ensure that:
- Refrigerant is recovered and reclaimed or destroyed
- Foam is recovered and destroyed or the blowing agent is recovered and reclaimed
- Metals, plastic, and glass are recycled
- PCBs, mercury, and used oil are recovered and properly disposed of
See if there’s a RAD partner in your area here.
Check with your state’s energy office and your local electric utility
Explore any recycling programs offered by your utility or other local energy-efficiency. You may even be able to find one that offers cash for your unit or free haul away.
Ask your local waste management company
The company that collects your trash every week may offer heavy appliance pickups for an additional fee. (Just make sure to inquire if they recycle appliances.)
Contact a local scrap metal recycler
The average refrigerator 10 years or older contains more than 120 pounds of recyclable steel! A local scrap metal recycler may be interested in taking your old fridge and be able to recycle the other materials responsibly.
Check with the company delivering your new refrigerator
If you’re having a new refrigerator delivered, ask the company if they can recycle your old unit. Larger retailers like Best Buy and Lowe’s offer this service for an additional charge.
Whichever route you choose for responsible refrigerator recycling, contact the organization or company directly to confirm the availability of this service.
Preparing your refrigerator for recycling
Before having your refrigerator hauled away to be recycled, make sure to complete these steps:
- Empty the contents. Remove all food items from the refrigerator and freezer. If you don’t have access to your new refrigerator yet, make sure to store your food at the appropriate temperatures.
- Unplug the unit. Remove the plug from the electrical outlet, and let the refrigerator defrost. Disconnect any water or ice maker lines.
- Create an exit path. Make sure you have a path cleared from the refrigerator to outside. Measure doorways to make sure your path is usable.
Incorporating responsible recycling of our belongings into our daily lives is an essential part of environmental stewardship. Following the guidance provided ensures that when the time comes to replace or upgrade your fridge, your old refrigerator disposal method aligns with responsible practices.
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