How to Recycle Appliances: Refrigerators, A/C Units, Stoves, and More

Most appliances can be recycled, but some require more preparation than others.

Fridges stacked in a row for recycle used refrigeration units pollution gas
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It is possible to recycle large electronic appliances, even those full of unpleasant chemicals, like refrigerators or air conditioners. It’s also highly preferable to the alternative, which can pose significant risks to people, wildlife, and ecosystems.

Recycling large appliances may not be as easy as cramming cardboard boxes into your curbside bin, but it also isn’t necessarily as difficult as you might imagine. Here’s a closer look at how to recycle appliances.

How to Prepare Your Appliances for Recycling

Some appliances need special care before you recycle them. For refrigerators, freezers, and air conditioners, that might mean hiring a professional to remove the refrigerant. Those chemicals can’t be in there when the appliance is recycled, and it’s illegal to remove them yourself unless you have EPA certification to do so. Specifically, someone needs to be “Section 608-certified,” which refers to Section 608 of the Clean Air Act, a requirement for technicians who maintain, service, repair, or dispose of equipment that could release refrigerants into the atmosphere.

The refrigerants in these appliances may be ozone-depleting substances, and even if not, there’s a good chance they are greenhouse gases, so it’s important to manage them carefully. You could call an appliance store or air-conditioning repair company for help finding someone certified to remove Freon and other refrigerants, but remember this isn’t a DIY project. Aside from the potential environmental harm, you could face a fine for violating federal law.

It’s a good idea to unplug refrigerators, freezers, and some other large appliances hours or days in advance of pick-up or drop-off for recycling, giving the evaporator time to defrost. Of course, you should also remove all food, drinks, and anything else from the inside. You may also need to drain water from some appliances, like dishwashers, clothes washers, and water heaters.

If you ever put a refrigerator or freezer outdoors for someone to pick up, you should always either tie it closed or remove the doors entirely. That’s an important safety measure to prevent children who might be curious about the appliance from accidentally getting stuck inside. Similar precautions could be wise for other appliances with doors, such as clothes dryers.

Also, for your own safety, don’t try to lift a heavy appliance like a refrigerator by yourself. Get help from at least one other adult or use a furniture dolly.

How to Recycle Appliances

Appliance Recycling
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Although the route to recycling can vary by type of appliance, it’s often smart to start by contacting your local waste management authority. They might offer a bulk collection or appliance recycling program, in which you specify the type of appliance and schedule a pickup. Even if they don’t offer the service, they’re in a good position to point you in the right direction.

Some appliance retailers and electric utilities have recycling programs for certain appliances, like refrigerators, as part of the EPA’s Responsible Appliance Disposal (RAD) program.

RAD is a voluntary program designed to minimize the environmental impact of refrigerators, freezers, window air-conditioning units, and dehumidifiers. RAD partners make sure refrigerant and foam are recovered and reclaimed or destroyed, for example, while metals, plastic, and glass are recycled, and PCBs, mercury, and used oil are recovered and properly dealt with.

In many cases, the contractor who’s installing a new appliance is tasked with hauling away the old one. That contractor should have Section 608 certification, enabling legal removal of refrigerants so the appliance itself can be recycled.

The metal in an appliance tends to have more value as a recyclable material than the plastic or glass, but all are recyclable.

Once an appliance is free of refrigerants—and other contaminants, including old food in your fridge—much of its material can be recycled. (And that rule doesn’t just apply to appliances that are being recycled. Refrigerants must be removed before a refrigerated appliance can legally go to a landfill, too.)

Appliances are typically shredded, with magnets and other methods helping separate the materials. Metals are the main targets for recycling, the EPA notes, with glass, plastic, and polyurethane foam often sent to landfills.

Recovery of foam isn’t legally required as it is with refrigerants, the agency adds, so the blowing agents in that foam insulation are released in the shredding and landfilling process, contributing to ozone depletion and climate change.

Refrigerators and Freezers

Environmental worker recycles an old refrigerator as part of Cash-For Clunkers Appliance Program

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Despite the challenge of dealing with ozone-depleting substances and greenhouse gases, you may have a few decent options for recycling an old refrigerator or freezer.

If you’re buying a new refrigerator, try to buy from a retailer that participates in the EPA’s RAD program, which is meant to make it easier to responsibly dispose of your old one. Many retailers will come and pick up your old refrigerator or freezer when you buy a new one.

Ask the retailer what will happen to your old appliance, the DOE suggests, to seek assurance it will be recycled rather than re-sold as an energy-inefficient secondhand unit. Some retailers charge a fee to pick up old appliances for recycling but offer a discount if you’re also buying a new appliance from them.

Some utility companies accept refrigerators and freezers for recycling, too, so it’s a good idea to check with your utility to find out if that’s an option. Electricity providers have an incentive to help customers phase out inefficient appliances, especially power-hungry machines like refrigerators, and some even offer cash or utility-bill credits when you buy a new refrigerator. Some may also pick up your refrigerator from your curb.

Your municipal waste-management division is another option, possibly offering special bulk-collection dates or recycling programs for appliances. Local scrap-metal recyclers might be able to help, but ask questions about certification and recycling, the DOE suggests.

If you’re trying to take a fridge or freezer somewhere to be recycled, you may need to arrange for its refrigerants to be removed first. If your retailer, utility, or sanitation department is coming to pick up the appliance from your curb, make sure to find out what kind of preparation you need to do—namely, will they deal with the refrigerants and oil inside, or do you need to?

In any case, you should remove any food from the fridge or freezer, and for safety reasons, always tie it closed or remove the door(s) if you’re leaving it outside for pickup.

Air-Conditioning Units

Similar to refrigerators and freezers, air-conditioning units contain refrigerants and other substances whose disposal is federally regulated. That includes central A/C units as well as room air conditioners, also known as window air conditioners since they’re commonly made to be mounted in windows.

Some utilities or retailers hold turn-in events to promote recycling of older, less efficient units, the DOE points out.

For help recycling an old A/C window unit, check the DOE Energy Star Partner Database for Incentives and Joint Marketing Exchange (DIME) and select the box that says “Room Air Conditioning (Recycling).”


When an old dehumidifier dies, it raises some of the same environmental and health concerns as do refrigerators, freezers, and A/C units. That’s because dehumidifiers also contain refrigerants that must be removed before the rest of the appliance can be recycled.

Some utilities accept dehumidifiers for recycling, sometimes even offering incentives like mail-in rebates. You can check DIME for options near you—selecting the “Dehumidifiers (Recycling)” box—or contact your municipal waste-management authority for guidance.


Old discarted dishwasher and washing machine on a vehicle truck for recycling
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Refrigerants shouldn’t be an issue for a dishwasher, but you should remove everything from the inside and drain any remaining water.

For help finding out how to recycle it in your area, you could start by calling your local waste-management authority. If you’re buying a new dishwasher, ask the retailer about recycling options for your old one—ideally, the contractor who installs your new one can also haul away the old one to be recycled.

Because most dishwashers are now largely made of plastic, however, they may not have as much recycling value as other appliances with more metal. 

Stoves and Ovens

Various types of stoves and ovens can be recycled for scrap metal. Contact your local waste-management authority, as well as the retailer if you’re buying a new stove/oven, to ask if they can help you recycle your old one.

In some places, there are scrap-metal recycling centers that will accept appliances like these if you deliver them.

Washing Machines and Dryers

Like other big appliances, washing machines and dryers are recyclable. They tend to feature lots of metal, elevating their recycling value compared with mostly plastic appliances. They’re also usually lighter-weight than a refrigerator and without the refrigerant problem.

As with other large appliances, your efforts to recycle them could begin with a call to your local sanitation division, recycling center, or the retailer who’s selling you a new washer and/or dryer.

Water Heaters

Hot Water Tank Graveyard
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If the tank is empty, a water heater can be recycled for its various metal components just like many other comparable appliances.

Check some of the same sources for help: the retailer who’s selling you a new water heater, your local sanitation department, or local recycling centers. As with other appliances, ask questions about how you should prepare your water heater before you haul it somewhere or leave it out for pickup.

How to Reuse Appliances

Reusing and repurposing old stuff is generally a good thing, but that’s not always true for aging appliances like refrigerators and air conditioners, both due to low energy efficiency and their tendency to contain toxins and pollutants. It’s often best to get old, inefficient appliances off the grid and into recycling facilities, the EPA points out, rather than using or storing them indefinitely. 

That said, reusability varies by type of appliance, not to mention individual need. If an old appliance still works, and especially if it’s less than 10 years old, it may be better in some cases to keep using it, or to sell or donate it. Some appliances that aren’t too old or inefficient could be welcome donations to charities, shelters, or community centers, for example.

It is possible to reuse some appliances for new purposes, even refrigerators, but you might want to first have a certified technician check for any remaining refrigerants, oil, or other potentially hazardous substances. And if you do hang on to an old fridge or freezer, remember there may be ozone-depleting chemicals and greenhouse gases within its insulating foam, too.

Why Recycle Old Appliances?

Scrapyard For Old Household Goods
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Some large appliances contain toxins or pollutants that could cause trouble if discarded improperly.

Refrigerators and freezers made before 1995 typically have chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) refrigerants inside, while window air-conditioning units and dehumidifiers made before 2010 often contain hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC) refrigerants. Both CFCs and HCFCs are ozone-depleting substances as well as potent greenhouse gases. (They’re sometimes broadly referred to as “Freon,” a trademark owned by the Chemours Company.)

Newer versions of these appliances instead feature hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants, which are considered ozone-friendly, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, (EPA), although they are still greenhouse gases.

Refrigerators and freezers made before 2005 may also be insulated with foam that contains ozone-depleting chemicals and greenhouse gases. 

Some appliances contain used oil, which can contaminate groundwater and harm human health, according to the EPA. Some refrigerators and chest freezers made before 2000 have switches and other components that include mercury, a toxic metal that can impair neurological development and cause other nervous system problems in humans. Various appliances made before 1979 might contain polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), toxic substances that can pose an array of health risks.

Aside from hazardous materials, most appliances have lots of plastic and metal, often steel. Recycling an appliance might help prevent some of its plastic from ending up in a landfill or loose in the environment, although unfortunately the plastic is often discarded even if the metal in an appliance is recycled, according to the EPA. A typical 10-year-old refrigerator contains more than 120 pounds of recyclable steel, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

Older appliances tend to be less energy-efficient, too, so continuing to use them requires more electricity, resulting in more carbon emissions that fuel climate change. That’s a big reason why the EPA and DOE advocate phasing out older appliances for newer, more efficient versions.