As convenient as a mini fridge may be during its lifetime, it can be a burden on the environment after it stops working. A mini fridge, like its big brothers and sisters, contains hazardous materials that make placing it in the trash unacceptable. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulates the disposal of all appliances that use refrigerants, and your state or city may have additional requirements. Happily, most of the components in your mini fridge can be recycled once it makes it to the proper facility.
Why Recycle Your Mini Fridge?
Many of the metal, plastic and glass components that would otherwise end up in a landfill can be salvaged and repurposed. In addition, some units may contain harmful contaminants such as PCBs and mercury that, if not recovered properly, can leach into soil and groundwater. Refrigerants also pose great environmental hazards; coolants in units made before 1995 contain ozone-depleting substances known as ODS, whereas coolants in later models can still release greenhouse gases, or GHGs. Last, the inside of a discarded unit can harbor harmful bacteria and contribute to biological pollution. (References 1 and 2)
Municipal Recycling Programs
Begin by contacting your local recycling center or waste management service to see whether they will accept your mini fridge; they may charge for this service. If they won't take the unit, ask if any nearby disposal centers can help. You can also contact your city hall. Some communities may offer special recycling days for disposing of large items and appliances, though by taking this approach, you may have to keep your refrigerator for some time before you can get rid of it.
Other Recycling Programs
The EPA created the Responsible Appliance Disposal Program in 2006 to create awareness about the environmental issues associated with these items and ensure compliance to safe disposal regulations. In 2010, through RAD's network of partners, nearly 700,000 refrigerators were processed, up from about 166,000 in 2007. (Reference 3) Partners in this program include utility companies, major manufacturers such as GE and major home appliance retailers like Sears, Home Depot and Best Buy. Some of the participants in this program -- Best Buy, for example -- accept any mini fridge for recycling even if you aren't purchasing a new one. Other retailers recycle your old fridge only if you're upgrading to a new product. Some of the utilities associated with RAD run their own refrigerator-recycling programs that include home pickup.
Clean out your mini fridge before disposal and wipe down the walls with a household cleaner to prevent the development of mold and bacteria. Under no circumstances should you try to vent the refrigerant out of the unit yourself. Contact the facility prior to dropping off your refrigerator to find out about any additional requirements. (References 2)
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Safe Disposal of Refrigerated Household Appliances: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: An Introduction to Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: RAD Environmental Benefits
- EnergyTrust of Oregon: Refrigerator and Freezer Recycling