Refrigerator recycling is a mysterious topic. How it’s done, if the materials are separated, and how the iceboxes are repurposed is a topic little known to the public and, until yesterday, myself.
Jaco Environmental changed all of that. With what has to be the most advanced refrigerator recycling method in the United States, Jaco’s Stow, Ohio facility disassembles between 100 and 150 refrigerators a day, says facility manager Tom Stenheiser. Employing cutting-edge shredding technology, Jaco is able to reduce the refrigerators down to material parts in a matter of hours, ending up with iron, copper, aluminum, plastic -- all valuable commodities -- in addition to foam, CFC’s, oil, and refrigerant at the end of the process. And beyond processing whole refrigerators, Jaco’s Stow location’s shredder is capable of recycling an additional 150-200 refrigerators that have gone through the first stage of dismantling at one of their other U.S. facilities.
So how does Jaco break the fridges down into their bare parts? First, the refrigerator rolls through the initial processing station and its compressor line is punctured, draining refrigerant and oil. Next, workers saw the compressor off of the bottom and move it onto the shredder. A giant monstrous-looking machine with a saber toothed claw (see video below) grabs the refrigerator and lifts it toward the jaws, four sets of spinning knives inside the machine. Once the claws drop the refrigerator into the airtight compartment, a blowing agent captures CFC’s -- a potent ozone-depleting greenhouse gas -- from the foam insulation.
The shredder continues to process the refrigerator, and a thermal distortion unit cleans the foam, which is extruded as a liquidy mixture. A magnet in one of the machine’s compartments then removes iron from the mix, and aluminum, copper, and plastic are left behind to move onto another processing machine inside the facility. Don’t say you’re not intrigued.
The extruded foam at the end of the shredding process.
Location: Founded in Washington, facilities in 26 states including Stow, OH
Recycling appliances for: More than 20 years
Incentive: Offers $50 tax rebate for functioning fridges (not to mention reduced consumer energy bills)
Number employed: 35 at Stow facility
Serves: Primarily U.S.
Recent trends: Growing. As Steinheiser explains, "We haven't felt any pain [from the economic downturn], we keep growing."
A recent graduate of Stanford’s interdisciplinary Earth Systems masters program, Lauren Kubiak works at NRDC as a MAP energy fellow. In addition to researching the best communications strategies to convey energy efficiency’s seemingly endless benefits, she is writing for...A recent graduate of Stanford’s interdisciplinary Earth Systems masters program, Lauren Kubiak works at NRDC as a MAP energy fellow. In addition to researching the best communications strategies to convey energy efficiency’s seemingly endless benefits, she is writing for OnEarth to spread the word about efficiency and clean energy businesses through one of her favorite storytelling frameworks: the road trip.