The number one most impactful solution to reversing global warming is mitigating the widespread use of refrigeration. This strategy alone is responsible for over 8% of the positive environmental impacts recommended in sum in the Drawdown book.

Consider the many applications of refrigerants: air conditioning in homes, commercial buildings and vehicles, as well as commercial refrigeration such as in supermarkets and refrigerated delivery trucks, and finally household refrigerators and freezers. The refrigerants used in these types of equipment today (HFCs, or hydrofluorocarbons) can have the chemical capacity to warm the atmosphere of up to 9,000 times greater than carbon dioxide, and 90% of refrigerant emissions happen at the end of life (i.e. disposal).

Residential Split Air Conditioning System, circa 2017

Fortunately, this is one Drawdown solution which has been largely addressed by public policy. In 2016, leaders from around the world agreed to amend the Montreal Protocol by signing the Kigali accord and phase out HFCs worldwide beginning in 2019. The HFCs will be replaced by substitutes including natural refrigerants such as ammonia and propane (used in recreational vehicle refrigerators).

Recreational Vehicle Refrigerator with Ammonia Cycle

How to Recycle a Refrigerator

Similar to the recycling of household electronic waste (e-waste), some municipal recycling centers offer refrigerator recycling services, including refrigerant removal. For example, in Southern Oregon where Alto Sustainability is headquartered, the Recology Valley View Transfer Station offers refrigerator recycling for $34.60 ($7.55 for refrigerant removal, $27.05 for disposal). Note that not all recycling centers charge for this service.

Ammonia Cycle Refrigerator

Another option if you are replacing your previous refrigerator is to request the delivery service haul away your old refrigerator when delivering the new model. Major retailers such as Home Depot will pick up your old refrigerator at no charge when they deliver your new refrigerator.

Actions You Can Take Today:

  • Research your local refrigerator and HVAC unit recycling options

Related LEED® v4 Credits:

  • LEED BD+C, EAp Fundamental Refrigerant Management (required)
  • LEED BD+C, EAc Enhanced Refrigerant Management (1 pt)