The Carbon Bomb in Your Kitchen

By: Lynn Fitz-Hugh | TCAT Community Engagement Director

Did you know that according to the book Drawdown, the most significant item that can change Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions is something we all have right in our own homes?  Your refrigerator!  It turns out the Hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) gases that are used in most refrigerators in the US as well as air conditioners and a number of other products are hundreds to thousands times more potent than Co2, making them some of the worst GHGs in the world!   For the most part the gas stays in the refrigerator during its life, but in the end of life they are crushed, releasing as much GHG as burning 519 lbs. of coal into the atmosphere in one fell swoop. 

As a result, in 2016 170 countries of the world sat down and hammered out a treaty that would phase out HFC starting with high income countries in 2019 and lower income countries by 2024.  Then Secretary of State John Kerry called it the biggest thing we could do for the climate.  Unfortunately, the Trump administration never sent it to the Senate for ratification.  However, the Biden administration has done so now.  

In the meantime and in seeing the handwriting on the wall, some refrigeration manufacturers started making R600A (Isotube) which is a safer alternative in 2019, and by the beginning of 2022, all US manufactures will have to switch to R600A if they want to sell their products in California.  Washington followed suite with a bill passed in 2020, sponsored by Beth Doglio, and supplemented by another bill in 2021.  Also, disposal companies have started to change the procedures for the destruction of refrigerators at the end of fridge life.

This has implications for your next refrigerator.  As mine has started making loud and continuous noises, and with the sticker inside the door saying it is 12 years old, I started preparing to buy a new Fridge.  To do so, I googled: 

‘fridge without HFC’s” and found this: I Tried to Buy a Climate-Friendly Refrigerator. What I Got Was a Carbon Bomb, an article by Phil McKenna, a climate reporter from InsideClimate News.  The title was not reassuring, McKenna relays finding a list, ordering a fridge, and the fridge arriving and having HFC’s, a As well as his fight to get it returned and find one that has the better HFCs.  McKenna’s article has a link at the top to a list of GE fridges said to be HFC free, released just after his article went to press. So I thought “Wow, I am lucky this work has been done for me!” I used the list to order a fridge that I could find available through Lowe’s. However, DON’T USE THAT LIST!  

I will not bore you with all the details of how impossible Lowe’s is, not to mention that this is a departure from my norm of trying to not deal with chain stores. Suffice it to say, after I asked them to confirm that it really did not have HFC’s, they had to have the manufacturer contact me.  I should mention that I did not find a refrigerator sales person anywhere that I had called that even knew what HFC’s were or how to tell if the product had them! The manufacturer eventually called and told me that he was sorry, but the item I ordered did indeed have HFC’s!  I asked why it was on a list on their website.  He stated that some models had them before 2019, but not after,  so therefore, I also had to check the door tag for the date of manufacture, which means you likely have to buy ones at a physical store.

I eventually read McKenna’s second article:  Want to Buy a Climate-Friendly Refrigerator? Leading Manufacturers Are Finally Providing the Information You Need.  In this update he announces the good news that the EPA has finally released a list which he provides the link for.  The EPA list helpfully includes the Energy Star rating, the dimensions, layout, etc. I was able to order one and even confirmed in the door tag it was labeled with R600A.  Was it a huge hassle?  Yes.  Is it worth it for our planet and future generations?  Yes. So start planning now for your next refrigerator because at least for another year or two it takes focus to succeed.

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