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Refrigerators don’t really fit in a trash bag. And they certainly aren’t meant to be mobile. This is why when you need to replace your refrigerator — or simply get rid of one — it can be a bit of an ordeal. By understanding your available options, you can remove your refrigerator in a cost-effective and environmentally responsible way that works for you. The following is a resource guide for how to remove your refrigerator in Chicago.
It’s important to note that refrigerators do not belong in a landfill. In addition to the plastic, metal, and glass of their composition — materials that can take hundreds of years to biodegrade — refrigerators contain hazardous chemicals required for operation. These chemicals and refrigerants pose a number of dangers to the environment if not properly vented and disposed of. Below is a list of chemicals, their location, and their particular hazard.
- Oil — Used oil is found in the cooling circuit of refrigerators and is often contaminated with ozone-depleting substances (ODS) that can destroy the ozone layer and act as greenhouse gases. If landfilled, ODS can also leach into groundwater supplies, increasing risks of cancer and other illnesses to the immune and reproductive systems.
- Mercury — Many refrigerators still in use have internal components like relays and switches that contain mercury. If released into the environment, mercury accumulates in plants and animals, and when consumed by people, it damages their neurological system.
- PCB’s — Polychlorinated Biphenyls are found in the capacitors of older refrigerator units. PCB’s are known to cause cancer and can also damage the endocrine, immune, reproductive, and nervous systems, as well as cause a whole host of other problems. They can also accumulate in the leaves and tissue of plants and animals before released in people when ingested.
- CFC-11 — Trichlorofluoromethane was the first popularized refrigerant, later discovered to be a hazardous ODS (ozone-depleting substance). It is often found in the insulation of the refrigerator.
- CFC-12 — Dichlorodifluoromethane, known under the brand name of Freon 12, is also an ODS and used as the primary refrigerant before being banned in 1994.
Is the Refrigerator in Working Condition?
If your refrigerator still works, then there are several ways you can donate it and bypass the recycling and waste circuit. Reuse is always the most efficient and cleanest method of environmentally friendly habits.
- Retailers — If you’re shopping for a new refrigerator, stores like Sears and Abt Electronics will often take back the old appliance you bought from them. They will often then refurbish and resell the old refrigerator at a discount center.
- Salvation Army — You can arrange to donate here and have it picked up, but be aware that their drivers reserve the right to reject anything that they think is not in good enough condition.
- ComEd — If you receive your electricity from ComEd, you may be eligible for their recycling program. Keep in mind that this is not a reuse program. Additionally, the refrigerator must be of certain dimensions and the home must be altered to allow for unimpeded, safe removal.
- Junk Removal Companies — Certain junk removal companies like Junk Relief carefully sort through all of the items they haul away, making sure that everything is allocated to the highest practical use possible. If it can be restored or reused, it’s sold to the appropriate vendors.
Is the Refrigerator Just Junk?
If your refrigerator is not in working condition or is just too run-down to be received and restored for any reuse, then you’re simply looking for an easy way to dispose and recycle that large hunk of metal.
Remember that nearly all materials in a refrigerator are recyclable. Refrigerators have no purpose in a landfill, and any irresponsible disposal of even the worst piece of junk refrigerator overlooks very easy, eco-friendly means of recycling.
- Alley pick-up — If you live in a single-family home or a small apartment building, then you can leave your old refrigerator in the alley for pick-up by city sanitation trucks. Other suburban districts, like Evanston, have similar pick-up programs in place.
A risk with this method is that unlicensed scrappers often patrol alleyways for these finds before city trucks arrive, and their unknown disposal methods may not be in compliance with environmental standards. In addition, you are responsible for moving the heavy refrigerator from your kitchen to the alley, which can present health risks of another sort to you if you aren’t careful.
- Junk Removal Companies — Eco-friendly junk removal companies like Junk Relief and others will take unusable refrigerators from their spot and have the contaminants vented by EPA-licensed facilities before recycling each individual component.
When removing a refrigerator, remember that it’s not just about getting rid of junk. Make sure that whoever is hauling your refrigerator away has clear, eco-friendly disposal practices and that they are making the most use of your junk as possible.