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December 2006

EPA develops responsible appliance disposal program

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has initiated a voluntary program with western utility companies to promote environmentally responsible disposal of household appliances. Responsible Appliance Disposal, or RAD, EPA's new voluntary program, aims to partner with utilities to reap environmental benefits through responsible appliance disposal.

As part of the program, EPA will serve as a technical clearinghouse on responsible appliance disposal program development and implementation. The utility companies will encourage consumers to retire old refrigerators, freezers, air conditioning units, and dehumidifiers, and implement best practices for the recycling/disposal of these units.

Currently in the United States, there are approximately 132 million household refrigerators, 54 million stand-alone freezers, 43 million air conditioning units, and 24 million dehumidifiers. Of the refrigerators and freezers, about 23 million are secondary units stored in people’s basements or garages.

Overall, approximately 13 million refrigerators/freezers, 4.5 million air conditioning units, and 1.8 million dehumidifiers are disposed of each year, typically without recovery of foam. Up to 40% of disposed refrigerators/freezers are re-sold—meaning that they are put back on the domestic electricity grid, or exported to developing countries, where they are unlikely to be handled responsibly at end-of-life.

There is great potential to significantly reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by removing old units from the power grid and disposing of them properly.

With regards to the handling of household appliances at end-of-life, Federal law requires that: all refrigerant be recovered prior to dismantling or disposal (40 CFR Part 82 Subpart F); and universal waste (e.g., mercury), used oil, and PCBs be properly managed and stored (40 CFR Parts 273, 279, 761).

State laws may have additional requirements. For example, some States require that certain durable appliance materials be recycled. At this time, no Federal or State laws require that appliance foam or the ODS blowing agent in the foam be removed and destroyed.

To date, more than 45 utilities have implemented appliance disposal programs across the country—more than 15 of which are still ongoing.

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