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Frequently Asked Questions about Safe Disposal of Refrigerated Household Appliances

Appliance owners play a critical role in helping to protect against environmental hazards associated with appliance disposal. The sections below provide consumers with information on:

  1. Environmental Concerns
  2. How to Dispose of an Appliance
  3. What Happens to Disposed Appliances
  4. Additional Regulatory Information
  1. Environmental Concerns

    What are the environmental concerns associated with the disposal of refrigerated household appliances?

    Refrigerant: Household refrigerators and freezers manufactured before 1995 typically contain chlorofluorocarbonHelpchlorofluorocarbonA compound consisting of chlorine, fluorine, and carbon. CFCs are very stable in the troposphere. They move to the stratosphere and are broken down by strong ultraviolet (UV) light, where they release chlorine atoms that then deplete the ozone layer. CFCs are commonly used as refrigerants, solvents, and foam blowing agents. The most common CFCs are CFC-11, CFC-12, CFC-113, CFC-114, and CFC-115. The ozone depletion potential (ODP) for each CFC is, respectively, 1, 1, 0.8, 1, and 0.6. A table of all ozone-depleting substances (http://www.epa.gov/ozone/science/ods/index.html) shows their ODPs, global warming potentials (GWPs), and CAS numbers. CFCs are numbered according to a standard scheme (http://www.epa.gov/ozone/geninfo/numbers.html). (CFC) refrigerant. Many window air-conditioning units and dehumidifiers contain hydrochlorofluorocarbonHelphydrochlorofluorocarbonA compound consisting of hydrogen, chlorine, fluorine, and carbon. The HCFCs are one class of chemicals being used to replace the CFCs. They contain chlorine and thus deplete stratospheric ozone, but to a much lesser extent than CFCs. HCFCs have ozone depletion potentials (ODPs) ranging from 0.01 to 0.1. Production of HCFCs with the highest ODPs are being phased out first, followed by other HCFCs. A table of ozone-depleting substances (http://www.epa.gov/ozone/science/ods/classtwo.html) shows their ODPs, GWPs, and CAS numbers. HCFCs are numbered according to a standard scheme (http://www.epa.gov/ozone/geninfo/numbers.html). (HCFC) refrigerant. CFCs and HCFCs are ozone-depleting substances (ODSHelpODSA compound that contributes to stratospheric ozone depletion. ODS include chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), halons, methyl bromide, carbon tetrachloride, hydrobromofluorocarbons, chlorobromomethane, and methyl chloroform. ODS are generally very stable in the troposphere and only degrade under intense ultraviolet light in the stratosphere. When they break down, they release chlorine or bromine atoms, which then deplete ozone. A detailed list (http://www.epa.gov/ozone/science/ods/index.html) of class I and class II substances with their ODPs, GWPs, and CAS numbers are available.) that, if released to the environment, destroy the ozone layer. Moreover, CFC and HCFC refrigerants are also potent greenhouse gases. Their release contributes to global climate change.

    Most refrigerators and freezers manufactured since 1995 and window air-conditioning units and dehumidifiers manufactured since 2010 contain ozone-friendly hydrofluorocarbonHelphydrofluorocarbonA compound consisting of hydrogen, fluorine, and carbon. The HFCs are a class of replacements for CFCs. Because they do not contain chlorine or bromine, they do not deplete the ozone layer. All HFCs have an ozone depletion potential of 0. Some HFCs have high GWPs. HFCs are numbered according to a standard scheme (http://www.epa.gov/ozone/geninfo/numbers.html). (HFC) refrigerants. However, these refrigerants still need to be carefully handled because they are greenhouse gases.

    Foam: Refrigerators and freezers manufactured before 2005 are insulated with foam that contains ODS that contribute to both ozone depletion and climate change. Only units manufactured since 2005 contain foam blowing agents that are ozone and climate friendly. Air-conditioners and dehumidifiers do not contain foam.

    Hazardous Components: Household appliances may also contain hazardous components, including used oil, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and mercury. For example, the cooling circuit contains oil that can be contaminated with ODS refrigerant. Some refrigerators and chest freezers manufactured prior to 2000 have mercury-containing components (i.e., switches and relays). Appliances manufactured prior to 1979 may contain PCB capacitors. For this reason, appliances should be recycled by facilities that safely remove these components prior to shredding and recycling.

  2. How to Dispose of an Appliance

    How can I dispose of my refrigerated appliance in an environmentally responsible way?

    First, you should check with your electric utility to see if a bounty program is offered in your area (see the text box). Because some bounty programs have required specifications for appliances (e.g., must be in working condition, of a minimum age and/or dimension), you may also need to confirm that your appliance is acceptable.

    Some retailers offer appliance pick-up and disposal services with the purchase and delivery of a new model. Others may allow you to drop off the old appliance at the retail establishment.

    Some municipalities require you to make an appointment for bulky item collection. Others require you to haul items to a transfer station or landfill (your municipality can direct you to a solid waste contractor for more information). Municipalities may require the refrigerant to be recovered from appliances before they will accept it for pick-up. In such cases, owners would need a professional, such as an employee of an appliance repair shop, to remove the refrigerant prior to disposal.

    Several other organizations (including retailers) will accept refrigerated appliances; some may even provide a small voucher or discount in return for appliances. Information on several of these organizations is available through EPA’s Responsible Appliance Disposal (RAD) program.

    How much does it cost to dispose of my old appliance?

    The cost for appliance pick-up and/or disposal varies. For example, your municipal public works department may provide free collection of refrigerant-containing appliances or there may be a fee for this service, which may vary by appliance type.

    Some retailers offer appliance pick-up and disposal services with the purchase and delivery of a new model. Depending on the retailer, a fee of $10 to $50 may be charged for this service.

    Utilities that operate a bounty program or retailers that have “trade-in” policies may also provide free pick-up/disposal services for old refrigerators/freezers or even pay you to pick up your unit. Go to EPA’s RAD Program for more information.

  3. What Happens to Disposed Appliances

    What typically happens to my old refrigerator or freezer once I get rid of it?

    After appliances are collected they can be resold, recycled, or landfilled.

    • Resale: Sometimes appliances that are in working condition are refurbished and resold domestically or abroad. Because these appliances consume large amounts of electricity and are less efficient toward the end-of-life, appliance re-sale should be avoided to save energy. Moreover, if units are resold in developing countries, their ultimate disposal is less likely to be carried out responsibly.
    • Recycling: Almost all of the materials in your refrigerator or freezer can be recycled. This includes the metal cabinet, plastic liner, glass shelves, the refrigerant and oil in the compressor, and the blowing agent contained in polyurethane foam insulation. Appliance recycling typically entails recovery of refrigerant and removal of hazardous components followed by shredding of evacuated appliances. Metal components are typically separated and recycled, while glass, plastics and polyurethane foam, are typically sent to a landfill. Because there are no requirements for foam recovery, the blowing agent contained in the foam insulation is emitted during shredding and landfilling—thus contributing to ozone depletion and to global climate change.
    • Landfilling: Typically, when a waste hauler brings appliances to a landfill, refrigerated appliances are separated until a technician recovers refrigerant and other hazardous components, after which, the appliances are landfilled. Sometimes disposed appliances are landfilled whole, without shredding or removal of durable components.

    What is being done to encourage more responsible appliance recycling/disposal?

    EPA's RAD Program encourages appliance recycling and proper disposal of hazardous components. RAD Partners ensure the proper handling of refrigerant and other hazardous components regulated by federal laws, and foam blowing agents.

  4. Additional Regulatory Information

    Do technicians recovering refrigerant from disposed appliances need to be certified?

    Technicians removing refrigerant from small appliances in the waste stream are not required to be Section 608 certified.

    Are the hazardous components or insulating foam contained in appliances regulated?

    Hazardous components, including PCBs and mercury, and compressor oil, must be removed from appliances before disposal in accordance with 40 CFR Parts 273, 279, 761. However, the treatment of ODS-containing foam is not regulated.

    How does EPA ensure that refrigerant is recovered from appliances in compliance with all regulations?

    The final disposer of appliances is responsible for recovering any refrigerant contained in appliances. If the enterprise that recovers the refrigerant is not also the final disposer of the appliance, EPA requires a signed statement containing the name and address of the person who recovered the refrigerant, and the date that the refrigerant was recovered. Please note that no sticker is required for disposal.

    Despite these regulations, illegal activities (e.g., appliance dumping, venting of refrigerant, release of hazardous components to the environment) still occur. Appliance owners should avoid illegal dumping and dispose of appliances responsibly. To the extent possible, schedule the collection of your appliance with your Department of Public Works, a retailer, bounty program, or other recycler. Appliances left curb-side might be picked up by peddlers who may improperly vent refrigerant or otherwise dispose of the appliance in an unsafe manner.