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Akhila Vijayaraghavan headshot

GE Captures Landfill-Bound Fridge Insulation for Reuse

Recycling of larger appliances does pose a problem not simply because they are cumbersome to transport. Machines like refrigerators, air conditioners, freezers contain hazardous substances and potent greenhouse gas emissions, which can contaminate the environment. Breaking these machines down safely at the end of their useful life is a challenge for many recyclers.

That means it's also a problem for those companies that want to provide an end-of-life recycling option to their customers. That's why GE is working towards a comprehensive recycling policy for their appliances.

The company announced its partnership with Appliance Recycling Centers of America (ARCA) last year, and has helped to support North America’s only UNTHA Recycling Technology (URT) System. The URT system does away with manual or semi-automatic disassembly of appliances. It is a 40-foot tall machine designed to process large appliances like refrigerators and reducing them to smaller components. The machine can recover around 95 percent of the foam insulation from appliances like refrigerators or freezers. The foam can be reused in new products - saving forward-thinking companies money on raw materials.

In the span of a year, according to a GE press release, the company has used this machine to process 100,000 refrigerators and freezers, which has kept out an estimated 5.5 million pounds of material from landfills. 89 percent has been reused for new products and 11 percent has been diverted towards fuel in cement manufacturing.

According to GE, nine million refrigerators are discarded annually in America. These are simply shredded for their metal and the 47 pounds of foam from each appliance end up in the landfill. The company has made a serious effort with the URT to make end of life recycling more efficient for its customers and capture this foam for reuse.

The agreement between ARCA and GE means that when a consumer purchases a new appliance from a participating retailer in the 12-state region, their old one will be taken away. This is then transported to the Philadelphia-based AAP recycling center.

As part of GE’s Responsible Appliance Disposal agreement with ARCA, when qualifying consumers purchase a new appliance from a participating retailer in their region, their old unit will be taken away when their new one is delivered. The old unit will then be transported to the Philadelphia-based AAP center for recycling. ARCA in turn has created 50 green jobs in Pennsylvania which is a testament to the economic incentives of recycling.

GE is very committed to a cradle-to-cradle approach for its appliances and its Ecomaginationapproach to sustainability. It was one of the first companies to offer Energy Star rating on its products. Perhaps with this technology, other manufacturers will be able to improve their end of life options for old appliances as well.

 Image Credit: The URT system can process approximately one refrigerator per minute. GE ©

Akhila Vijayaraghavan headshotAkhila Vijayaraghavan

Akhila is the Founding Director of GreenDen Consultancy which is dedicated to offering business analysis, reporting and marketing solutions powered by sustainability and social responsibility. Based in the US, Europe, and India, the GreenDen's consultants share the best practices and innovation from around the globe to achieve real results. She has previously written about CSR and ethical consumption for Justmeans and hopes to put a fresh spin on things for this column. As an IEMA certified CSR practitioner, she hopes to highlight a new way of doing business. She believes that consumers have the immense power to change 'business as usual' through their choices. She is a Graduate in Molecular Biology from the University of Glasgow, UK and in Environmental Management and Law. In her free-time she is a voracious reader and enjoys photography, yoga, travelling and the great outdoors. She can be contacted via Twitter @aksvi and also http://www.thegreenden.net

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