Earth-Friendly Guide to Recycling a Refrigerator

Learn how to recycle kitchen appliances that have called it quits with this earth-friendly guide.

kitchen with white cabinets and wood tones
Photo: Laurie Black

Many of us have an old fridge that's broken down or have one that's working but is ancient and inefficient, making it clear that it’s time to invest in a new, more energy-efficient version. When ditching a refrigerator, remember that proper refrigerator disposal is kinder to the environment. If only old appliance removal was as easy as tossing it into the recycling bin! While not quite as effortless, fridge disposal is not as hard as you might think.

So why is it important to know how to recycle kitchen appliances like refrigerators?

Refrigerators contain refrigerants, oils, and other compounds that require removal and recovery, in accordance with federal law. In addition, appliances contain parts and materials that can be recycled. According to Energy Star, the average refrigerator that’s 10 or more years old contains more than 120 pounds steel that can be recycled.

Where do you begin? Here are some questions and answers to help you know how to recycle a refrigerator.

Does the refrigerator still work?

floor-to-ceiling white kitchen cabinets with fridge

Yes? Great. Rather than disposing of your refrigerator, give it to someone who could use it. List it on a local sale site and make a little cash. Or consider donating it to an organization, such as a charity or shelter, which will put it to good use. That group might even be able to help you transport it.

If your refrigerator isn't working, skip to the next question for appliance disposal tips.

Are you replacing the refrigerator with a new version?

Yes: The home appliance store that you're purchasing your new appliance from may have a fridge and freezer disposal program and may be able to take your old refrigerator and recycle it for you. At the time of your purchase, ask about free removal. Also ask for details about what will be done with the refrigerator after it leaves your home. Ideally, the store will recycle the appliance properly and thoroughly, according to best practices and regulations.

In addition, if you're replacing an inefficient fridge, you may qualify for rebate or removal through your local utility. Did you know that New Energy Star qualified refrigerators use less than half as much energy as ones made prior to 1993?

No: Skip to the next question.

Have you called your local utility or waste disposal company?

modern kitchen

Yes: Refrigerators and freezers have hazardous components, including refrigerants, chlorofluorocarbons, hydrochlorofluorocarbons, and other dangerous chemicals, that can damage the ozone layer. These affect how and where the appliances can be recycled. Your local waste disposal company may be able to pick it up for you, but they could charge you a fee. However, when they recycle the refrigerator they will remove reusable metals, glass, and plastic.

If your local waste disposal company cannot pick it up, you may need to take it to a recycling center, which may be managed by your local municipality and have specific dates for the drop off of bulk items. Call your area's waste disposal office to find out details and, again, ask for information about their recycling practices.

No: If you know that your municipality does not recycle refrigerators, you can contact the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and their Responsible Appliance Disposal program. They will be able to assist you with finding a recycling point. Know that you may have to prepare the refrigerator by removing the door, drawers, and accessories.

Note: If your waste disposal company picks up old refrigerators, do not ever leave them curbside with unsecured doors. Either remove the doors or secure them so children cannot open the appliance and crawl inside. Leaving a refrigerator or other appliance curbside can also leave it prone to tipping so you may not want to leave it unattended for long.

How to Recycle Kitchen Appliances Beyond Refrigerators

black kitchen cabinets with stainless appliances

Fridge and freezer disposal and recycling are a little more involved because these appliances contain refrigerant chemicals. Other appliances may also contain hazardous materials that need to be disposed of properly. While refrigerators are large and house plenty of recyclable elements, other kitchen appliances are prime for recycling, too. Follow similar guidelines for dishwasher, range, and microwave disposal: Consider donating or selling, if the appliance is in working order; if you’re replacing an old or nonworking unit, check to see if the store has a program for range, microwave, and dishwasher recycling; or call your local municipality or utility company to inquire about their programs.

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