Fridges tend to last a long time, which is great for sustainability in your home. But if you’ve heard about Green America’s Cool It! campaign and the not-so-cool greenhouse gases hidden inside of refrigerators you might be wondering if your fridge could be a climate problem.
Our campaign targets grocery companies that own millions of fridges that leak HFCs (hydrofluorocarbons) into the atmosphere and escalate the climate crisis. These refrigerant gases regularly leak out of poorly maintained equipment and through irresponsible disposal of appliances.
While our focus is not fridges in people’s homes, appliances have other hazardous components besides HFCs that can also pose threats to the environment and communities if (and when) they leak out. Fortunately, there are numerous ways to safely manage that old fridge and protect the environment.
Refrigerants called HFCs are 9,000 to 12,000 times more potent than CO2 as greenhouse gases
Keep Your Fridge Working Well
Move your fridge a few inches away from walls. This helps hot air from the compressor disperse, making it easier for the appliance to stay cool. Place a board behind (and on the side if it’s in a corner) to keep it from inching back to the wall.
Vacuum the coils in the back of your fridge (or across the bottom front, behind a grille) at least annually.
Keep it full—if you’ve got chronically bare shelves, add some jugs of water—then the fridge doesn’t have to work so hard to cool warm air that rushes in every time you open the door.
Keep an eye on the temperature. Your fridge doesn’t have a check engine light, so keep a thermometer inside if it doesn’t have one built in, to make sure you’re not in the danger zone (over 40 degrees). For less than $10 you will potentially save hundreds in food or fridge replacement costs.
Be aware of the signs of a coolant leak, which compromise the freshness of your food and also your health. Warning signs that you may have a leak: food feels warm; electric bill is unusually high; the motor runs constantly; odd musty smell. A prolonged leak could also cause physical symptoms such as headache, nausea, fainting, or other inexplicable symptoms.
If your fridge makes loud or prolonged sounds, that’s another way to know to call for repairs.
My fridge isn’t working right
When hiring a technician to make repairs in your home ask if they are certified under Section 608 from the Clean Air Act.
Renters, urge your landlord to hire section 608-certified technicians and create a schedule for monitoring leaks on your property annually.
If you suspect that a repair technician you hire is venting out gases instead of responsibly containing them, you can report it on the EPA’s tip line—search online for “Report Environmental Violations EPA.” If the technician is emptying the gas into a plastic jug or no container at all, it’s not being recovered properly and should be reported. If the refrigerant is being properly recovered, your technician will be using a machine and a reusable cylinder to capture the gas.
My fridge is beyond repair
Check out Energy Star’s Flip Your Fridge calculator to see how much you could save by replacing your fridge with an energy-efficient one based on its size, shape, age, and your electricity rate. You can also use that tool to find a free pickup and rebate for recycling an old fridge.
Check with your electric utility to see if it sponsors a turn-in program that will pay you for your old appliance. Many do!
Use the EPA’s Responsible Appliance Disposal Program to find retailers and utility companies who will dispose of your old appliance. These partners send appliances to certified technicians to responsibly remove the substances. See affiliated cities and utility partners at epa.gov/rad.
Do not attempt to cut any refrigerant line yourself or remove items like the compressor, which will result in venting out the gases.
I’m ready to buy
When you’re ready to get a new fridge, get one that’s Energy Star-rated or HFC-free. Energy Star is a high-efficiency ranking from the EPA. Fridges with this rating are 9% more efficient than the federal standard for that year and are sold by most major brands. Energy Star also certifies A/C units and other appliances. HFC-free refrigerators are sold in the US by many major brands, though they are not yet the standard. Find a list of HFC-free models by searching “EIA HFC-Fridge Buyer’s Guide” online.
I own fridges (and A/C units) at a business
Commit to monitoring leaks on a quarterly or annual basis.
Make a plan so you can make a quick repair if you detect a refrigerant leak, and make sure to contract with technicians who are Section 608 certified under the Clean Air Act.
How can I help supermarkets and other retailers be climate-friendly?
You’re working to cut HFC emissions—tell companies to do their part. Supermarkets in the United States are a major source of HFCs. Their refrigerant leaks are responsible for the emissions equivalent to having 9.5 million more cars on the road each year.
Green Americans have already made a difference—100,000 petition-signers pushed Walmart and in 2021, it announced it will transition to “low-impact” refrigerants by 2040. But 20 years is too long to wait, so we’re asking Walmart to release a detailed plan to meet the scale of this crisis. We’re also asking Walmart to commit to all its new stores being HFC-free. We’re asking Trader Joe’s, a company known for being a friendly market, to be more transparent and up its game after entering a settlement for its violation of the Clean Air Act after allegedly leaking refrigerant greenhouse gases. Join Green America in urging popular grocers Walmart and Trader Joe’s to cut HFCs at coolitforclimate.org.
Green America is also working with Walmart shareholders for direct shareholder action. If you own Walmart shares and would like to get involved, email Todd Larsen at toddlarsen (at) greenamerica.org.