How to Recycle an Old Refrigerator

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Written by Leigh Matthews, BA Hons, H.Dip. NT


Leigh Matthews, BA Hons, H.Dip. NT

Sustainability Expert

Leigh Matthews is a sustainability expert and long time vegan. Her work on solar policy has been published in Canada's National Observer.


As I mention time and again at Leaf Score, the most eco-friendly thing you can do for most appliances is to keep using the one you have, if it isn’t broken. That said, you may want to make an exception if your refrigerator is old and not functioning so well anymore. 

First, though, see if you can fix your refrigerator yourself! 

If your current refrigerator or freezer doesn’t seem to be running efficiently, check the gaskets. These are the rubber seals around the doors, which are designed to prevent cold air leaking out. Over time, these gaskets can degrade, causing a decline in the appliance’s performance. To check the gasket, place a piece of paper between the door and the fridge or freezer. If you can pull it out easily, it’s time to replace the gaskets. Check your manual to see if you can do this yourself or if you’ll need technical help from the manufacturer.

If your refrigerator really is on its last legs, though, or is an absolute energy hog, or contains CFCs or HFCs, you may want to consider replacing it with a more energy efficient and eco-friendly refrigerator; here at Leaf Score, we like Smeg as a great eco-friendly choice. If you are replacing yours, this means getting rid of your old refrigerator in an environmentally sound way. To do this, you’ll want to check your local area for recycling facilities. 

Recycling your old refrigerator

An estimated eleven million refrigerators are disposed of annually in the U.S., with only a fraction of the chemical-ridden insulating foam recycled. Yes, most of the metal in these refrigerators ends up being recycled, but the other materials are typically crushed, which releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Interested in what happens to your old refrigerator when you send it for recycling? In Manitoba, Canada, you can get paid to have your old refrigerator or freezer picked up and recycled. Here’s how they do it.

To figure out your local recycling options, you can call your city or do a quick online search. Some companies offer a pick-up option for your old appliance. Be sure to find out what happens to that item, though, once it’s removed. Does it go to landfill? Is the company working with a partner for efficient recycling? 

Reusing old refrigerators

If you’re moving across or out of the country, say, or have some other reason to part with a working appliance, consider donating it to a charity such as Green Demolitions. This company sells items salvaged from luxury kitchens and bathrooms, and proceeds from their sales go to a charitable enterprise that supports outreach programs for All Addicts Anonymous (AAA). 

This also means that if you’re in the market for a new appliance, it’s a great idea to check out Green Demolitions. You may find a luxury item at 50-70 percent of new retail prices and you’ll be helping support a charity and keep perfectly usable appliances out of landfill.

Disposing of an old refrigerator

The EPA has a Responsible Appliance Disposal Program, known as RAD. Companies including GE Appliances are signed on to RAD to help reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and the amount of waste entering landfill. Purchasing a new energy efficient refrigerator from a dealer participating in the RAD Program means a dramatic cut in how much is sent to landfill. Instead of the average 55 pounds of scrap that ends up in a landfill when industry deals with an old refrigerator, less than 8 pounds goes to landfill to the RAD way. 

RAD is a process whereby a used refrigerator is picked up and transported to a dedicated recycling center, where refrigerants, and regulated and recyclable materials and substances are removed. This reduces around 85 percent of the weight of typical waste. Greenhouse gases are also removed from the foam insulation in the refrigerator, and the ferrous and non-ferrous metals, and plastics, in the remaining components of the refrigerator are separated for recycling. 

This process helps reduce the amount of hazardous materials, including mercury and used oil, that could otherwise leach into the environment if a refrigerator is simply dumped in a landfill, crushed whole, or is otherwise disposed of improperly. 


I’ve covered recycling, safer disposal, and reuse, but what about the reduce element of the three Rs? Well, when choosing your new refrigerator, go for an energy-efficient appliance you’re likely to stick with long-term. This means picking an appliance that has a good chance of working in your kitchen regardless of any upgrades to kitchen cabinetry and so forth. That way, it should be many years before you’ll need to consider buying another refrigerator, which helps reduce resource extraction and energy consumption associated with manufacture and shipping.

In this Leaf Score series on refrigerators, I’ve also worked through some math to help explain why an Energy Star certificate isn’t always a reliable indicator of the best refrigerators around.

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