It is common knowledge that refrigerators and freezers run all the time. As a result, they consume a lot of energy. In fact, a household fridge is the highest energy consuming appliance in a typical household, accounting for as much as one-fifth of annual electricity costs, according to Consumer Reports .
What is less well known perhaps, is that the decisions we take when replacing fridges don’t just have energy efficiency implications, they also have ozone and climate change implications.
Recently, the Bank’s Montreal Protocol Unit, where I’ve worked since 2002, decided to replace its small office refrigerator. Fridges have long lives and ours was no exception, having been in service for 25 years. Nearing the end of its life, its energy performance was unimpressive, and it still used a chemical with both high ozone depleting and global warming potential (GWP) as coolant. Use of CFCs was phased out globally under the Montreal Protocol by 2010 with the help of our team, but they remain, nevertheless, housed in long-life appliances around the world. So it was no surprise that I was asked to research procuring an ozone-friendly, energy efficient fridge that uses a climate friendly refrigerant, along with disposal options for the old one.
In late December, our Unit procured a Danby office size fridge. It uses R600a, a hydrocarbon, as the refrigerant. These are new on the U.S. market despite being available overseas for many years. Its estimated yearly energy use is 268 kWh and, its annual running costs are low at $32. The process of identifying the most efficient, ozone- and climate-friendly make and model was not as easy as I’d thought it would be. So too was identifying the process of disposal options for the old fridge.
Climate Change VP Senior Director, John Roome, Director, James Close and GSD Environmental Specialist, Adam Rubnfield discuss the properties of the new fridge with Karin Shepardson, Manager, Global Implementing Agency Coordination Unit, prior to the ribbon-cutting organized on the margins of the Unit’s Holiday get-together. Photo: D. Kayser
I set out to find a model that used a hydrocarbon refrigerant. Hydrocarbons, also called natural refrigerants, have just recently come onto the U.S. market for office size refrigerators. The bulk of the sales representatives I consulted were knowledgeable about the energy efficiency of various refrigerator models, but knew hardly anything about the refrigerant inside. As knowledge of the refrigerant used was less readily available, I was persistent and glad I’d done research to ultimately procure an efficient and ozone- and climate-friendly model, the first to meet all three criteria in World Bank HQ.
With the new model on order, the question of what to do with our old fridge arose. Although we may have been tempted to keep our old appliance as a back-up, we are sending it for recycling. At the end of your fridge or freezer’s life, it is important to make sure that it’s disposed of safely, that parts are recycled and that the old fridge is not re-used. Useful information about venting and safe disposal requirements is available on US Environmental Protection Agency’s (US EPA) Stationary Refrigeration and Air Conditioning web page.
Our Unit’s new energy efficient, ozone-and climate-friendly fridge. Photo: D. Kayser
Also, suppliers of your new appliances may be prepared to remove your old fridge and commit to its safe disposal. The US EPA’s Responsible Appliance Disposal (RAD) program is a voluntary partnership that helps protect the ozone layer and reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by engaging program partners to recover ozone-depleting chemicals from old refrigerators and freezers, as well as other appliances. A list of RAD partners and affiliates is available here.
Even within the World Bank we are learning about how to ensure safe disposal for end of life appliances. We are working alongside GSD’s Corporate Sustainability team to make sure that we follow best practice in disposing of our old fridge.