Whether it’s their smart grid savvy or the new environmentally friendly materials that go into them, appliances today are far greener than their predecessors. So why not keep up that eco-track record when it’s time to send them to the great appliance showroom in the sky?
Today GE announced that it’s doing just that by becoming the first appliance manufacturer to partner with the Environmental Protection Agency’s program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and landfill waste. As part of the partnership, GE Appliances & Lighting is working with Appliance Recycling Centers of America (ARCA) to reduce the typical landfill waste of a refrigerator by approximately 85 percent by weight. GE, which is already focused on energy efficiency and emissions via its ecomagination line of technologies, will now be the first in the U.S. to use ARCA’s system, which can recover about 95 percent of the insulating foam in refrigerators.
The problem is that about nine million refrigerators are disposed of annually in the U.S. While 90 percent of them are shredded for their metal, only a fraction have the insulating foam in their walls and doors recycled. And if it’s not recycled, the foam and other materials typically go to a landfill — with the shredding process releasing a substantial amount of greenhouse gas and ozone-depleting emissions into the atmosphere.
ARCA says that if the foam from the 9 million refrigerators were processed through their recycling technology, the greenhouse gas emissions avoided would be equivalent to the annual CO2-e emissions of more than 2.4 million cars on U.S. roads. And those kinds of results are top of mind with homeowners, as a recent survey conducted on behalf of GE suggests that 70 percent of consumers want all or part of their used appliance to be recycled.
With the U.S. appliance recycling industry very fragmented today — and with wide variation in processes and little investment in foam recycling technology — the hope is that the new partnership will vastly improve appliance recycling in the U.S. In the deal, GE will supply used-appliances from a six-state region to ARCA Advanced Processing’s regional recycling center in Pennsylvania, where the technology will automatically capture chlorofluorocarbons, hydro chlorofluorocarbons, hydrofluorocarbons, and cyclopentane from the insulating foam.
The recycling initiative follows the news in October that GE is investing $432 million to establish four U.S.-based refrigeration design and manufacturing centers of excellence. The investment will create 500 new “green” jobs by 2014 and brings GE’s total U.S. investment in appliance manufacturing announced since 2009 to more than $1 billion.
The factories are using a top-to-bottom redesign process that maximizes efficiency known as “Lean” manufacturing. It not only increases productivity and saves costs, but it makes the U.S. factories globally competitive. Most of the new units will be smart-grid enabled to save energy and cut costs and they’ll use refrigeration insulation that dramatically cuts greenhouse gas emissions. The plants themselves will reduce carbon emissions 90 percent.
* Read today’s announcement