What do refrigerators, ice makers, and vending machines have in common? They all use refrigerants (also known as coolants) to do the things we count on them for. They’re also all recyclable, but that refrigerant poses a few problems that have to be handled first.

What are refrigerants?

Some of the more common refrigerants include chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs). CFCs are composed of carbon, fluorine and chlorine; HCFCs contain those three plus hydrogen.

Don’t get your tongue all twisted around those names: most people know CFCs by the name Freon, which is a trademark of the Chemours Company, or simply as “greenhouse gases.” In addition to the appliances named above, CFCs also show up in some aerosol products as well as air conditioning units, dehumidifiers, and freezers.

Why should I care about refrigerants?

For the same reason that you care about sunscreen at the beach. When released into the atmosphere, refrigerants cause damage to the ozone layer – the layer of Earth’s atmosphere that helps filter the sun’s ultraviolet radiation. When the ozone layer is damaged or depleted, UV rays have a more direct path to the Earth’s surface, and those who inhabit it. And sunburn is just one example of the consequences of higher UV exposure. CFCs also compound the heat that’s trapped in our atmospheric “bubble” and prevent the planet from cooling off.

It may not seem like a big deal to the individual who has maybe one or two cooling units in their home, but when you consider the hundreds of millions of households even in just developed countries, and the industries that rely on refrigerated appliances on a large scale, suddenly it’s easier to see why CFCs are a topic of global concern. In fact, CFCs are on their way out, after an international effort to curb their production and trade.

What does this have to do with recycling a refrigerator? 

Before a refrigerator or any other CFC-containing unit can be recycled as scrap, it must be drained of its coolants. And that’s not as simple as cutting a hose or removing the compressor.

The Environmental Protection Agency has regulations under Section 608 of the Clean Air Act that define the proper handling, removal of and recycling of refrigerants. Individuals and businesses can both be held liable for releasing CFCs into the atmosphere.

To responsibly evacuate a unit of coolant, the coolant must be recaptured by a recovery system and not allowed to escape into the air. Typically, your local HVAC provider has the right tools and can provide this service prior to having your unit recycled. We strongly recommend that you do not try this at home.

Does Cohen accept refrigerators and other cooling units?

Absolutely. We’d certainly rather see your appliances recycled and used to manufacture new ones than taking up space in a landfill where they will take hundreds of years or more to decompose. However, we are committed to doing it the right way. Our policy is as follows:

  • If the unit is intact, including the compressor and/or intact coolant lines, there is a $15 handling charge per unit. This goes towards our costs to properly recover the coolant.
  • If the unit has already been disassembled and/or drained, Cohen requires information about who performed the evacuation (such as a receipt from a professional) and a signature affirming the condition of the unit when it was turned over to us.

>> Learn what else you can recycle at Cohen.