GE Launches Refrigerator Recycling Program

a refrigerator graveyard
a refrigerator graveyard

What do you do with a refrigerator once it reaches the end of its life?  Well, in our parents’ and grandparents’ day, appliances were repaired and repaired until they were completely unusable.  In London, heaps of unwanted refrigerators were transformed into a theater installation.  Some utilities pay a few bucks to take those old fridges out of your kitchens.  Most refrigerators, however, end up in the landfill as there are only so many art pieces that can be constructed out of these appliances.  This week, General Electric (GE) is launching a recycling program in a step to address this problem.

GE’s Appliances and Lighting division earlier this year announced it was partnering with Appliance Centers of America (ARCA) as part of GE’s involvement with the EPA’s Responsible Appliance Disposal (RAD) program.  After several months of planning, the refrigerator recycling program will kick off with an event at a recycling facility in Philadelphia.

The technology behind this recycling initiative belongs to UNTHA, an Austrian company.  Its system, UNTHA Recycling Technology, or URT, will launch for the first time across the pond.  UNTHA’s recycling process reduces the landfill waste of a refrigerator by about 85 percent.  The process promises to take care of that foam that keeps our drinks and food cold, but is problematic once a refrigerator is set to enter appliance heaven.  UNTHA’s technology, explained by business writer Harris Berenholz, will not only salvage metal, but also takes care of those toxic blowing agents like cyclopentane, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), hydro chlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).  The upshot is:  all those acronyms make refrigerators one of the worst items to entomb in a landfill.

For ARCA, a company that started out selling prior year model and closeout appliances, the move will bolster its waste diversion business.  For the environment, less greenhouse gas emissions and ozone depleting substances will be emitted into the air.  And for GE, the company scores a few extra corporate social responsibility (CSR) points.  This launch in Philadelphia is an important first step:  ARCA estimates that if the nine million refrigerators annually disposed in the United States were done so through this recycling technology, that would be the equivalent of the CO2 emissions of over two million cars on American roads.  A small, but welcome trash-to-cash step indeed.

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Leon Kaye is a consultant, writer, and editor of and also contributes to The Guardian Sustainable Business; you can follow him on Twitter.  He lives in Silicon Valley.

Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010. He has lived across the U.S., as well as in South Korea, Abu Dhabi and Uruguay. Some of Leon's work can also be found in The Guardian, Sustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. You can follow him on Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost).

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