Buying a refrigerator might seem like the easiest thing to do. Pick a design and the volume capacity you’re after. But before buying, consider this: in an average American household, the refrigerator is one of the hardest working appliances, typically making up 13.7 percent of a home’s energy usage. In other words, owning energy-efficient refrigerators makes good financial sense! But our finances shouldn’t be our only concern.
I am not going to walk you through which size to buy. That of course will depend on your needs and the space to fit one. Remember there are many ways to save food from the fridge. You might want to base your decision on the following knowledge.
Different countries or regions use different energy ratings. But the features consuming more or less energy, and the urgency to recycle are the same.
For the sake of clarity, this articles is about refrigerators for household use.
Energy Guide Labels in Europe
“A refrigerating appliance is an insulated cabinet with one or more compartments that are controlled at specific temperatures and which are cooled naturally or forced. Typical examples include household fridges, freezers and combi-appliances, wine storage units and mini-bars.”
Refrigerating appliances are labeled on an energy efficiency scale ranging from A+++ (most efficient) to G (least efficient).
These ratings take into account:
- energy consumption
- storage volume
- whether or not the appliance has a freezer compartment
- other factors
From 1 March 2021 this scale will be replaced by one using a scale from A (most efficient) to G (least efficient). The labels will give information on the volume of the compartments and sound emissions. For wine storage units, it will show the number of bottles that can be stored.
For the first time, the measures will include requirements for
- recyclability (which will contribute to circular economy objectives by improving the life span, maintenance, re-use, upgrade)
- waste handling of appliances.
A product showing an A+++ energy efficiency class could for example become a class B after rescaling, without any change in its energy consumption.
The class A will initially be empty to leave room for more energy efficient models. This will enable consumers to distinguish more clearly between the most energy efficient products. At the same time, it is likely to encourage manufacturers to continue research and innovation into more energy efficient technologies.
- Mere numbers show the environmental importance of switching to more energy efficient refrigerating appliances. One can save up to €200 over the lifetime of an average product. More efficient refrigerating appliances will also allow Europe to save up to 9.6 TWH of electricity per year by 2030. This is close to the annual household electricity consumption of Lithuania, and will prevent around 3.1 million tonnes of CO2 from being emitted every year.
Rules on ecodesign for refrigerating appliances are mandatory for all manufacturers and suppliers wishing to sell their products in the EU. So American manufacturers seeking to export to Europe will have to comply with these rules.
Europeans are exemplary citizens. The energy label is recognized by 93% of consumers and 79% consider it when they are buying energy efficient products.
Green Technologies for Greener Fridges
Ecodesign supports industrial competitiveness and innovation by promoting better environmental performance of products throughout the internal market. Manufacturers are keen to see their energy-labeled products in the highest available category when compared to competitors. A lot of research and effort is invested to step up their game.
The major issue with refrigeration (including both refrigerators and air conditioning) is the ozone-harming chemicals and greenhouse-gas chemicals that it releases into the air.
CFSs and HCFCs
The 1987 Montreal Protocol, an international, legally binding agreement, phased out two types of harmful refrigerants in wide use prior to that year: chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydro chlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), which were responsible for tearing a hole in the ozone layer.
Though they helped repair that hole, the replacement chemicals, hydro fluorocarbons (HFCs), are 1,000 to 9,000 times more potent than CO2 in terms of their climate impact, and they are still in prominent use today.
Under the 2016 Kigali amendment to the Montreal Protocol, nations began to phase out HFCs. Subsequently, the chemical industry began to market hydrofluoroolefins (HFOs) as an earth-friendly alternative to other gases, but they too have harmful effects.
4 Concerns over appliance disposal today?
- Insulating foam blowing agents are released to the environment, contributing to stratospheric ozone depletion and climate change.
- Refrigerant and other harmful substances may be released to the environment, against federal requirements or against European law.
- Only the most valuable metals get recycled, while other durable goods get landfilled.
- The resale of old, inefficient units leads to increases in energy consumption, energy costs, and GHG emissions.
In the 1990s, the advocacy nonprofit Greenpeace invented GreenFreeze as a climate-friendly solution.
GreenFreeze uses naturally occurring hydrocarbons, mainly isobutene as the refrigerant and cyclopentane as the insulation foam-blowing agent, or the foam that insulates the doors and walls of fridges. These efficient refrigerants are thousands of times less potent as global-warming agents than fluorocarbons and don’t break down into acid like fluorolefins.
At first, with the chemical industry in the USA using its powerful influence, the EPA did not approve of natural refrigerants for sale. Only in 2011, the EPA officially allowed manufacturers to sell natural refrigerants in the US.
“Even if a refrigerator is returned to an official collection point, you cannot be sure that it is treated correctly in all EU countries. Particularly in Germany, Greece, Finland and Sweden, we have evidence that minimum quality standards are not met. These governments must act now to stop further unnecessary damage to our planet.”
This is quite surprising as precisely these countries, except for Greece, are believed to be the best students of the class when it comes to recycling.
Refrigerators and freezers contain refrigerants, oils, and other compounds. 90 percent of the emissions of refrigerant chemicals happen during disposal.
In the US all these must be removed and recovered by federal law. Then the steel, other metals, and selected parts can be recycled. Some recycling programs also capture the foam insulation inside the refrigerator doors for added environmental benefits.
FACT : The average refrigerator in the US aged 10 years or older contains more than 120 pounds of recyclable steel!
The above chart shows the total positive impact when refrigerators are recycled following The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Responsible Appliance Disposal (RAD).
This brings us to the core business of the article:
How to find & buy the most eco-friendly refrigerator for your home.
Click here to find the best online stores & brands to buy your next eco-friendly refrigerator.