Fridges and freezers disposal and recycling

It might be hard to imagine life without them, but 60 years ago only 13% of British homes had a refrigerator. Now, fridges and freezers have become an essential appliance with 76% of households around the globe owning one.

Here, we talk about the history of fridges and freezers, discussing how they are made and explaining what you can do with one that no longer works.

Fridges and freezers disposal and recycling

A short history of fridges and freezers

Before fridges were invented, people used ice boxes to keep their fresh produce cool. These first appeared at the beginning of the 19th century and consisted of a wooden box broken into sections and lined with insulators such as zinc, cork, or tin. A block of ice was placed in one of the sections, while food was stored in the others.

The fridge was invented in 1834 by an American inventor named Jacob Perkins. Unfortunately, due to its cost and unreliability, Perkins’ wooden cooling box didn’t enjoy much success and domestic refrigerators didn’t become widely available until the 1930s, when Electrolux began to market theirs in the US.

The first freezers began to appear a decade later in the 1940s, but these didn’t go into mass production until after the end of World War II.

What are fridges and freezers made of and how are they made?

While it varies depending on the exact model, according to the Agbogbloshie Makerspace Platform (AMP) many fridges are composed of around 60% steel, 13% plastic, 10% polyurethane (PUR) foam, 3% copper, 3% aluminium and 1% glass. The remaining 10% consists of other materials, including chlorofluorocarbon (CFC), mercury (Hg), and Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC).

How long do fridges and freezers last?

The average life expectancy of a fridge-freezer is 16 years, whereas a standalone freezer could last anywhere from 12 to 20 years. This may seem like a long time, but in the UK the number of fridges scrapped each year is now equal to the number purchased (3 million).

What type of waste do fridges and freezers contain?

Alongside metals, plastic, and glass, fridges and freezers also contain substances that are hazardous to health. Mercury, for example, can cause DNA damage and disrupt the nervous system, as well as causing skin rashes and headaches. Polyurethane can irritate the eyes, nose, and throat and cause asthma, while polyvinyl chloride is known to cause dizziness as well as damage to several internal organs and increased cancer risk for those in regular contact with it.

Due to the dangerous nature of some of these components, it is therefore essential that old fridges and freezers are disposed of safely.

How can you dispose of an old fridge/freezer?

If you’re about to replace your fridge or freezer, there are several options available to you depending on the condition that it’s in. If your fridge or freezer is still in working order, you may be able to make some money by listing it for sale on a site such as eBay, Gumtree, or Facebook Marketplace.

Another environmentally-friendly option would be to give it to a friend or relative or even arrange for a local charity shop to take it (they will often offer collection).

If your fridge no longer works then it will have to be scrapped. If you’re buying a new fridge, some companies will offer to take the old one away for free.

If you’re strong and own suitable transport, you may be able to take your fridge down to your local tip or recycling centre yourself. Alternatively, most councils will collect large waste such as fridges and freezers for a fee.

What will happen to my fridge or freezer once it’s been taken away?

By law, UK fridges must be disposed of by an approved contractor. The UK’s largest recycling plant, owned by AO, receives 700,000 fridges every year – almost a quarter of the UK’s total. At recycling plants like this, fridges and freezers are checked to make sure that they are no longer capable of being reused before they are carefully broken down in a way that ensures workers are protected from harmful elements and dangerous gases remain contained.

What can a fridge or freezer be made into?

Plastic from fridges and freezers can be recycled to produce items such as plant pots. The motors and metal parts are also able to be recycled.

There is hope that the plastic from old fridges may one day be recycled to use in new fridges.

What are some problems with fridge/freezer waste?

One problem with the fridge/freezer recycling process is that, while the law regulates their disposal, some of the centres responsible for this aren’t operating as well as they should be. A 2002 study found that millions of fridges sent for recycling were still releasing damaging gases into the environment.

What are the costs associated with recycling and disposing of fridges and freezers?

If you’re able to take your fridge or freezer to the tip or recycling centre yourself, there is no charge for its disposal. However, if you have to arrange for a collection from your local council you will usually have to pay a fee of around £30 – £60.

What can I do with my fridge or freezer instead of disposing of it?

If your fridge or freezer is no longer working but you don’t want to dispose of it, the internet is awash with creative ideas for how you can imaginatively reuse your old appliance. If you fancy a new sofa, bookcase, or even a pantry cupboard, you could brush up on your DIY skills to turn your old fridge into something useful.

Remember to always dispose of your old fridge and freezer safely

In conclusion, fridges are a marvellous invention that won’t be replaced anytime soon. It is, however, important to ensure that they are disposed of properly or, better still, recycled.

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