Did you know that in the UK more than 3 million refrigerators are disposed of each year? It’s true. In addition, while it’s not unusual for a fridge to last more than 20 years the average fridge lasts a modest 11 years.
Most people will probably read the above statements and think “What’s the big deal?” Well, the big deal is that most modern fridge-freezers contain environmentally dangerous materials, and if 11 million of these things are being improperly disposed of each year the environment is taking a beating that will likely come back to haunt future generations.
As such it should be apparent that just cleaning out the fridge when you’re done with it and dumping it at the kerb is not the responsible thing to do.
What are the Harmful Materials in a Fridge Anyway?
If your fridge was made before 2000 there’s a good chance it contains chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) or else hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs). These materials can be found in the fridge’s insulation and refrigerant and when they break down they release a chlorine atom that attacks the earth’s ozone layer. As a planet and species we already went through one ozone depletion emergency some years back, the last thing we need is another. Depleted ozone allows harmful levels of UV radiation to reach us and cause a variety of ailments including skin cancer.
How Do I Know if These Materials are in my Fridge?
The simplest way is to determine when the fridge was manufactured. If it was prior to 2000 there’s a good chance it contains CFCs or HCFCs. You can also look for the manufacturer’s plate on the fridge which should include refrigerant information.
Sell or Donate to Charity
While 11 million refrigerators are disposed of each year in the UK the fact is a substantial number of those haven’t actually breathed their last. They’ve simply worn out their welcome and are being replaced by a newer model. If that’s the case with your fridge consider donating it or selling it instead of simply disposing of it. There are plenty of people who would be happy to take it off your hands if it’s still in decent working condition. If selling your old fridge seems like more hassle than it’s worth consider donating it to a soup kitchen or to the local Salvation Army. They’ll clean it up and resell it.
Professional Waste Removal
Having a professional remove your old fridge for you will certainly ensure it gets disposed of properly but it won’t be free. You’ll typically have to pay something in the neighbourhood of £50 + VAT for them to come and carry your old fridge away. Before you start thinking that £50 is too much remember that the removal company will be on the hook for the disposal fee and they (disposal fees) aren’t usually cheap. This leads to another point: if the waste removal company offers to remove the fridge for £20 or £30 think twice. Such a cheap price probably indicates they intend to simply dump the fridge illegally in a landfill someone without removing the dangerous materials.
Take Advantage of any Retailer Offers
Some, though not all, retailers will offer to take your old fridge off your hands when you buy a new one from them. If your retailer makes such an offer take them up on it. You’ll be immediately free of having to deal with an old, unwanted fridge and they’ll make sure it gets disposed of in a safe, environmentally responsible way.
Most, though again not all, Household Waste Recycling Centres (HWRC) will dispose of an old fridge free of charge if you go to the trouble of bringing it to them. Be sure to call ahead though because, as we said, not all HWRCs will accept an old refrigerator.
Don’t Forget the Local Authority
Your local council is obliged to come round and collect your old fridge if you so request it. Typically they’ll provide this service for slightly less than a professional waste removal company. However the flip side is that they’re not known for their speedy response times. You might have to hold on to the old fridge for 2 weeks or longer while you wait for them to pick it up.
What Happens to Recycled Fridges?
If properly disposed of your refrigerator will be transported to a dedicated refrigeration recycling plant. Save for the hazardous materials nearly the entire rest of the fridge is recyclable. The fridge will be broken down in a sealed environment to prevent any CFCs or HCFCs from reaching the atmosphere and then…
- The compressor is removed, any gases and oils are removed, as are any CFCs. Once cleaned in this way some compressors can be reused.
- The fridge is shredded.
- The CFCs are isolated, captured and carried away.
- Insulation powder is separated and collected for disposal.
- Ferrous metals, non-ferrous metals and plastics are all separated for recycling.
- CFCs are finally separated, liquefied and subjected to high temperature incineration.
Disposing of a refrigerator is no laughing matter. It must be done following established guidelines and protocols in order to safeguard the environment for future generations. Make sure you follow the above tips and your old fridge will either wind up ably serving someone else or will meet its end in a controlled, responsible manner.
When the time comes to get a new appliance, be sure to check out our reviews for the best fridges, best freezers and best american fridge freezers so you can be sure you get the right appliance for you and your home.