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Cooling the planet, one old fridge at a time

B.C.’s Large Appliance recycling program is helping households slow global warming and contribute to the circular economy

Author of the article: Rob Mathison • Postmedia Content Works Publishing date: Jul 05, 2021

The Return-It Large Appliance | MARR program removes barriers to recycling large appliances, making it as easy as shopping for a new one. PHOTO BY SUPPLIED

It’s noisy. It doesn’t keep things cold any more. And you don’t even want to know what that greenish lump of unknown origin in the back is. It’s time for a new fridge. Making that decision is the easy part. How to dispose of your old fridge, or any large appliance, responsibly is typically not so straightforward. In British Columbia, the Return-It Large Appliance | MARR program is changing that.

Keeping harmful chemicals out of the atmosphere

So-called “white goods” — fridges, freezers, ovens, clothes washers and dryers, air conditioning units and so on — are one of the biggest culprits in global warming. Many contain chemicals called refrigerants. When released into the atmosphere, refrigerants contribute to a gradual thinning of the Earth’s protective ozone layer, which warms the planet.

While the 1987 Montreal Protocol banned the most common type of refrigerant, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), newer replacements such as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) are still a problem. While they break down ozone slower than CFCs, they are still potent greenhouse gases — much more harmful than carbon dioxide. When released, these gases trap heat and contribute to the global warming greenhouse effect.

By responsibly recycling their large appliances, consumers can ensure that lower quantities of these harmful gases make it into the atmosphere.

A better way to recycle large appliances

Many people either don’t know how to dispose of large appliances responsibly, or they want to avoid the cost and inconvenience of doing it. Removing ozone-depleting substances is a specialist job, yet some people even try to do it themselves, which can be as dangerous as it is ineffective.

The Return-It Large Appliance | MARR program removes these barriers to recycling large appliances, making it as easy as shopping for a new one. The program is operated by the Major Appliance Recycling Roundtable (MARR), a not-for-profit stewardship agency that works on behalf of over 100 major appliance producers to meet B.C. recycling regulations.

“MARR’s main focus is to provide consumers with free and reasonable access to recycling,” says Michael Zarbl, MARR’s executive director. “That includes removing the ozone-depleting substances, which is especially important with refrigerated appliances.”

MARR partners with Return-It, who administers the MARR program so consumers can be sure that any harmful gases will be handled and disposed of carefully by licensed professionals. The metal is also recycled to help minimize waste and conserve resources.

“Scrap metal is something that has always been collected and recycled as there is a market for it,” says Zarbl. “We’ve tapped into the existing market supply chain, working with the metal recyclers, local governments and various recycling depots.”

Consumers previously had to pay to drop off a large appliance at a landfill or recycling depot. They often couldn’t be sure how their appliance would be recycled or if harmful greenhouse gases would be removed.

Now, MARR reimburses the collection sites and pays for licensed technicians to remove the gases. “There was no control over how large appliances were recycled,” says Zarbl. “Now, we’re actually measuring and documenting it, so we can reassure the public that we’re doing it in an environmentally sound and safe manner.”

Better for British Columbia, and better for the planet

As well as being free, which removes any incentive for DIY recyclers, it’s also now much easier for people to drop off their old appliances. MARR finished 2020 with 190 collection sites, covering almost 95 per cent of B.C.’s population.

The process for recycling large appliances shows the circular economy in action:

  • People can find a site near them and drop off their appliance for free

  • A licensed technician removes the harmful refrigerants

  • The appliance gets sent to a metal recycler or processor to be shredded and recycled

  • The metal is sold to markets to be reused

B.C. is a large place, and not everyone lives within a short drive of a recycling depot. Zarbl personally drove the seven hours from Williams Lake to Bella Coola to spread the word to First Nations and other remote communities about mobile collection events.

“I visited all the First Nations along the way and handed out my card,” he says. “If they want to do a collection event in their community, we will send a truck in to remove the appliances and ship them to a depot. We went all the way up to Atlin Lake near the Yukon border last year and hauled two truckloads out.”

MARR’s efforts are paying off. In 2020, over 328,000 large appliances were recycled through the Return-It program network, up from 211,340 in 2019. New sites are being added all the time.

Visit to drop off your old fridge, freezer or other large appliance for free, and have peace of mind that the harmful greenhouse gases will be removed and the metal will be returned to the economy.

This story was created by Content Works, Postmedia’s commercial content division, on behalf of Major Appliance Recycling Roundtable.

Vancouver Sun

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