Cool way to recycle the fridge

At a new plant in Brides­burg, a soph­ist­ic­ated pro­cess is get­ting rid of moun­tains of ap­pli­ances that have out­lived their use­ful­ness. Even bet­ter, say com­pany reps, the pro­cess is good news for the en­vir­on­ment.

A new fa­cil­ity just opened in Brides­burg, and it is bring­ing new jobs and some eco-prestige to the Delaware River wa­ter­front.

Two weeks ago, the Ap­pli­ance Re­cyc­ling Cen­ters of Amer­ica (ARCA) on Delaware Av­en­ue un­veiled a mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar ma­chine — touted as the first of its kind in North Amer­ica — and re­cyc­ling pro­cess that dra­mat­ic­ally im­proves how re­fri­ger­at­ors are re­cycled.

Through a part­ner­ship with Gen­er­al Elec­tric and Home De­pot, the fa­cil­ity will be able to ac­cept old re­fri­ger­at­ors, of­ten those from cus­tom­ers up­grad­ing to new ap­pli­ances, and con­vert them to raw ma­ter­i­als.

The ef­fort also is part of the fed­er­al En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency’s Re­spons­ible Ap­pli­ance Dis­pos­al pro­gram.

It’s a $10-mil­lion pro­ject that cre­ated 50 jobs and strives to con­trib­ute to a clean­er en­vir­on­ment by re­du­cing the waste ma­ter­i­als that re­main after a re­fri­ger­at­or is scrapped in typ­ic­al fash­ion.

Or­din­ar­ily, re­cycled re­fri­ger­at­ors leave be­hind 55 pounds of waste — most of it melted plastic and in­su­lat­ing foam that can’t be re­used — that ends up in a land­fill.

At the of­fi­cially un­veil­ing of the plant — ac­tu­ally in op­er­a­tion since April — rep­res­ent­at­ives said that des­troy­ing leftover waste in a typ­ic­al break­down of a re­fri­ger­at­or cre­ates as much car­bon di­ox­ide as 200 gal­lons of gas­ol­ine burned in a com­mon car en­gine.

That’s per re­fri­ger­at­or.

The new pro­cess sep­ar­ates in­su­lat­ing foam from the rest of the scrap ma­ter­i­als and con­denses it in­to pel­lets that can be cleanly burned with coal as an en­ergy source.

On av­er­age, this pro­cess leaves be­hind just eight pounds of un­us­able waste.

“This is the new way (to scrap re­fri­ger­at­ors),” said Bri­an Con­ners, pres­id­ent and chief op­er­at­ing of­ficer of ARCA, dur­ing a tour of the fa­cil­ity. “When we are done, less than eight pounds will go to the land­fill.”

As vis­it­ors wandered throughout the river­front fa­cil­ity, hun­dreds of ap­pli­ances — most of them re­fri­ger­at­ors and stoves — sat in long rows that were slowly man­euvered in­to place for re­cyc­ling.

The stoves, which Con­ners said were still be­ing re­cycled the “old way,” were fed in­to a ham­mer mill to be crushed and re­cycled. But Con­ners also made it a point to note that ARCA re­moves heat­ing ele­ments and parts made of mer­cury that oth­er scrap yards of­ten don’t re­move.

Work­ers lined up the re­fri­ger­at­ors in a sim­il­ar man­ner, but at ARCA, the ap­pli­ances are fed in­to a new ma­chine and shred­ded by gi­ant sli­cing blades. The new part of the pro­cess, as Con­ners poin­ted out, was a blower that sep­ar­ated the in­su­lat­ing foam from the oth­er ma­ter­i­als.

“It’s very typ­ic­al of a scrap yard,” Con­ners said as he showed vis­it­ors a live video feed of a re­fri­ger­at­or en­ter­ing the new scrap­ping ma­chine. “The dif­fer­ence is we are get­ting all of that foam and plastic.”

Gases that es­cape as the re­fri­ger­at­ors are dis­mantled are con­densed in­to a li­quid for dis­pos­al, and the foam is con­densed in­to fuel pel­lets.

“On a small scale, this can re­place coal,” said Con­ners.

Steel gained from the pro­cess could be used to cre­ate base plates for lo­co­mot­ives, Con­ners said while step­ping onto the enorm­ous re­cyc­ling ma­chine.

Over­all, he said, the Brides­burg plant can pro­cess about 2,000 ap­pli­ances a day. They ar­rive from 12 states in the east­ern re­gion of the coun­try.

Jim Camp­bell, pres­id­ent and CEO of GE’s ap­pli­ances and light­ing di­vi­sion, said about 70 per­cent of the com­pany’s cus­tom­ers in­dic­ated that they want to re­duce their car­bon foot­prints. By sup­port­ing the new re­fri­ger­at­or-re­cyc­ling pro­cess at ARCA, his com­pany is simply re­spond­ing to its cus­tom­ers’ needs, Camp­bell said.

“This is the re­spons­ible thing to do, and it just makes good busi­ness sense,” he ad­ded.

Dur­ing the tour, Con­ners also ac­know­ledged the hard work of the many new em­ploy­ees who op­er­ate the ma­chinery and en­sure that the re­fri­ger­at­ors are re­cycled cor­rectly.

“It takes a team ef­fort,” said Con­ners. “And I think we’ve put to­geth­er a really great team.”

Re­port­er Hay­den Mit­man can be reached at 215-354-3124 or hmit­ 

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