Refrigerators have a significant contribution in our daily modern lives. Refrigerating food became a convenient way to preserve food. However, due to everyday use, our refrigerators eventually deteriorate. Its cooling capacity is reduced and operating it would incur higher electricity costs. Hence, we decide to buy a new one. Has it ever crossed your mind that refrigerators can be recycled? Recycling will definitely help the environment by reducing wastes and also reducing mining activities to acquire the materials in making a new refrigerator. People’s awareness will push manufacturers to create a proper waste disposal and recycling hub for old refrigerators.
What is a Refrigerator Made Out of?
Refrigerators have an exterior cabinet, an interior, insulation located between the exterior and interior, door, a cooling system and refrigerant. Aluminum is the main material for the refrigerator door and cabinet. The interior is made out of steel sheets or sometimes, with plastic. The insulation is made up of fiberglass or polyfoam. The cooling system is made up of a compressor, a condenser, coils and fins. Components of the condenser are made from aluminum, copper or alloy. The metal tubing you see at the back is probably made from copper. The most commonly used refrigerant would be Freon. Interior fixtures such as door, liners, compartments and drawers are vacuum-formed plastics usually pre-formed.
1. Outer cabinet and door
This is made from welded pieces of sheet metal. Sometimes, it is clinched which is very much like stapling two pieces of paper. The difference is that clinching uses pressure to put together separate pieces.
Metal sheets are usually pre-coated. In cases that it is not, it is painted. A uniform coating of paint is laid on the metal using a spraying technique. Baking the paint onto the surface is also done by dipping the parts in a paint before heating.
2. Inner cabinet
Fashioned after the sheet metal of the outer shell is the inner cabinet. To improve insulation and aesthetics, seams are sealed completely. Inner doors are more commonly made out of vacuum formed plastics nowadays.
The outer cabinet is fastened together with the inner cabinet before the fixtures are attached. Tubes and wires are inserted before insulation is placed.
3. Cooling system
The cooling system is composed of copper tubing that is soldered together and sprayed with a protective coating on the joints. This setup is then attached to the refrigerator unit.
Magnet filled gaskets are attached to the doors and this then creates the seal on the refrigerator door. Handles and hinges are then attached to the refrigerator door.
Why should you recycle?
Recycling poses a lot of environmental advantages. Old models of a refrigerator can have up to 120 pounds of steel that can be recycled. Other than steel, other metals and plastics used in the exterior and interior cabinets of the refrigerator can also be recycled. Also, government mandated laws are placed to properly dispose of foam insulation and refrigerants that are harmful to the environment. These environmentally hazardous wastes should be treated and disposed of properly to avoid harm to people and nature. To encourage people to follow suit, the government has placed incentives to those who will turn over their old refrigerators at proper facilities for recycling and disposal.
During the recycling process, the refrigerator is broken down into parts that are reusable in other industries. The government agency that oversees the recycling of refrigerators is the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and are the ones who created guidelines to properly recycle these parts. Observing the guidelines set will create the lowest negative environmental impact.
The following are the reusable parts:
- Plastics & Metals
- Glass Dividers & Shelving
- Oils & Refrigerants
- Switches & Thermostats
- Polyurethane Foam
Proper Recycling Steps
1. Remove the coolant
In general cases, a licensed HVAC practitioner should do this step. Careful draining of the refrigerant is essential so that taking apart the refrigerator can proceed. This is a safety measure as refrigerants are considered hazardous wastes and should not be left lying around.
2. Take the refrigerator unit apart
In this step, separate the reusable ones from the non-reusable ones. Segregate the parts according to type.
3. Forward to recycling plants
Once properly categorised, the parts that are reusable should be forwarded to their respective recycling plants. Remember that there are EPA approved recycling plants that follow strict guidelines posted by the Agency to have the lowest negative environmental impact possible.
4. A trip to the scrap yard
Other items that cannot be reused as is but can be repurposed for other industries can be brought to the scrap yard. It is not advisable to include these items in your regular garbage bin. Going to the scrap yard is better because they have the existing collection of these types of materials so they will probably have better use for it. Also, scrap buyers can give you cash in exchange for these items.
5. Call local waste management
For larger machines, such as those used for industrial purposes, it is better to contact your municipal waste management bureau to assist in transport and proper disassembly and disposal.