How to recycle your refrigerator professionally

Your refrigerator is a good example of how challenging it is to recycle electrical and electronic equipment in an environmentally friendly way. Refrigerators, which in addition to refrigerators also include freezers and air conditioners, not only contain valuable materials that can be reused, but also pollutants that must be disposed of safely.

A particular challenge for recycling is the fact that technical development in the manufacture of refrigerators does not stand still. Your refrigerator is a completely different appliance than the one your parents bought 30 years ago. However, all appliances, both old and new, must be properly recycled. That's why recycling companies need not only a lot of experience, but also a lot of innovation.

In the past, refrigerators contained Chlorofluorocarbons CFC, which were found in the insulation and as a coolant. These CFCs affect the stratospheric ozone layer, which protects the earth from the sun's ultraviolet radiation and plays a major role in determining the climate. The refrigerants used in new appliances are significantly less harmful to the environment, but nevertheless require proper disposal.

A complex recycling process for refrigeration equipment was developed in Switzerland at an early stage, the declared aim of which was not only to recover raw materials but also to efficiently extract the refrigerants from the compressors, the oil still present and the propellants from the insulation. This process was later adopted by the EU as a standard, once again proving Switzerland's leadership in recycling. 

This is what the recycling process looks like
But what does the recycling process of a refrigerator actually look like? In a first step, all loose parts are removed from the appliance by hand. These can be cables, fruit peels and glass panes, but also pollutants such as mercury switches on freezers.

Then, in the first recycling stage, the refrigerant present in the refrigeration circuit is extracted in an airtight manner by means of a vacuum system. The refrigerant-oil mixture flows into a separation unit in which the contaminants contained are separated from the oil. The purified used oil is then bottled and delivered to specialized companies for further processing. The recovered refrigerants are filled into a pressure-resistant large container. The compressor is then separated from the refrigerator body, drilled into and completely emptied.

In the second recycling stage, the refrigerators are shredded and processed so that existing recyclable materials such as iron, aluminum, copper and plastics can be separated. At the same time, the insulating foam is broken down using special shredders to destroy the pore structure and achieve maximum degassing of the harmful blowing agents contained in the foam.

It's worth it!
As you can see, professional recycling of refrigerators and freezers pays off in more than one way. At the end of the two-stage recycling process, not only are valuable ferrous metals, non-ferrous metals and mixed plastics returned to the cycle, but also refrigerants, blowing agents and refrigerant oil are cleanly separated and all environmentally harmful pollutants are safely collected and disposed of.