refrigerator graveyard

How and Why to Recycle an Old Refrigerator

A refrigerator is a necessary household item that typically has a lifespan of one to two decades. Like all appliances, however, the time eventually comes to consider replacing the refrigerator.

Deciding to get rid of an old fridge usually comes down to mechanical problems or design preference. For example, a refrigerator that once matched the kitchen décor perfectly no longer does when homeowners update the style.

Regardless of the incentive to replace a fridge, refrigerator recycling should always be pursued.

Old Refrigerators Require Special Disposal

Unlike common household waste like food scraps and consumer packaging, people can’t just throw their refrigerator in the garbage or recycle bin. They will need to make special arrangements to haul it away before they can install the new unit. Some possibilities include:

  • Donating the outdated or non-working refrigerator to a charitable organization willing to repair it if necessary. However, it’s important to keep in mind that many charities require any large appliance donated by the public to still be in good working order. Anyone considering a refrigerator donation should call the charitable organization first to ensure it will accept the unwanted appliance.
  • Selling a refrigerator that still works to a used appliance store or placing an ad in a local publication. Something this large typically doesn’t do well at a garage sale.
  • Contacting the local utility company for advice. Some utility providers offer to pick up old appliances free. Others will even give the customer a credit on their bill. After picking up a working or non-working refrigerator, the utility company drains its Freon in an environmentally safe manner.

Refrigerators left to side outside or in a landfill pose significant risks to the environment and to human health due to Freon and other chemicals. Disposing of an unwanted refrigerator responsibly is essential to prevent these risks.

At the same time, upgrading to a more energy efficient refrigerator is better for the environment. In the long run, an upgrade saves home and business owners as much as 25 percent on their utility bill.

Refrigerator Recycling for New Life

If a utility company picks up the old refrigerator, it typically delivers it to a local refrigerator recycling center after disposing of the Freon. The refrigerator then goes through somewhat of an assembly line process, starting with dismantling via automated hacksaw. Once demolished, an employee hand-sorts the approximate 200 pounds of metal and divides it into categories.

Most metal moves on to local scrap yards, but some goes into shipping containers for overseas delivery. Recyclable contents from the demolished refrigerator typically take on new form as aluminum cans, copper wiring, or construction materials.

The Responsible Appliance Disposal (RAD) Program

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) offers the voluntary RAD program to its affiliates, manufacturers, state and local government agencies, retailers, and utility companies. The purpose of RAD is to accept and dispose of old refrigerators in the most environmentally friendly way. The goal is to uphold standards that surpass current federal requirements.

Consumers, who can also participate in the EPA’s program can find more information online. There they will find guidance on how to dispose of their refrigerator and more. Responsible Appliance Program link.