A new project is turning our old white fridges green.
At the Phoenix Fridges warehouse in East Brunswick, two long rows of fridges face-off like football teams before a big game. On the left, a refurbished line-up is clean, efficient and ready to run. On the right, the dusty, sticker-covered new recruits will soon face their ultimate test.
But unlike a footy game, this eco-friendly scheme always returns a win-win result.
Phoenix Fridges, co-run by the Brotherhood of St Lawrence and Moreland Energy Foundation Limited, aims to curb the appetite of our power-hungry refrigerators. To do it, they collect unwanted appliances and retrofit them to improve efficiency. Then, the recycled goods are resold in the Brotherhood’s opshops.
The scheme is not only a plus for the environment, but also lends a helping hand in the community. Last year, while learning how to fix the whitegoods on the job, three refugees completed six-month traineeships and TAFE certificates in electrotechnology services. This year, the number of traineeships is set to double. The program’s other important social benefit is that low-income families gain access to cheap second-hand fridges with lower running costs.
Bruce Thompson, Business Program Coordinator at MEFL, says Phoenix Fridges offers a strong practical step for cutting electricity use. The fridge devours more energy than any other appliance. “It is responsible for about ten or 15 per cent of a household’s greenhouse emissions,” he says.
Thompson encourages people to buy a new fridge if they can afford it. “From a greenhouse policy perspective, it is really good to buy a new one. They are about 70 per cent more efficient than a fridge you would buy 15 years ago.” But there’s a catch. Over a third of Victorian homes have a second fridge: people tend to put their old unit in the garage and use it to store drinks. “So instead of saving 70 per cent, they’ve increased their energy consumption,” he says.
That’s where Phoenix Fridges comes in. The project has been in full swing for over a year. In that time, it has collected more than 5000 old refrigerators – almost one hundred per week – across metropolitan Melbourne. The free pick-up zone now stretches as far as Mt Eliza.
When the chunky donations arrive at the workshop, electrical engineer Noe Cuellar and his trainees assess the efficiency and quality of each one. They send approximately half the machines to be scrapped.
According to Thompson, this is a crucial part of the process. “We want to manage the project so that we are returning good fridges back into circulation to make them affordable for low-income households,” he says. “But we don’t want to send the energy hungry ones back,” he says.
Before the cast-offs are sent for metal recycling, their dangerous refrigerant gas is captured from the pipes. “A kilogram of the old CFCs in a fridge… is equivalent to 8000 kilograms of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in terms of its global warming equivalent,” Thompson says. If you put your old fridge out for hard rubbish collection, he says, the pipes are likely to break along the way and release the harmful gas.
For those fridges that make the cut, where necessary, Cuellar and his team replace seals, thermostats, filters and compressors, and add insulation. He says that, on average, they cut energy use by between five and ten per cent.
Each unit is fitted with a sticker listing the appliance’s energy consumption, carbon emissions and running cost per year. Cuellar says that customers appreciate this extra information, as well as the improved performance. “We’ve found that people love the fridges,” he says. “They find them really cost effective.”
Thompson acknowledges that Phoenix Fridges doesn’t create five-star efficiency in the old units. “We can’t do that,” he says. “But we are improving them or rejecting all of the bad fridges that are in that second-hand market.”
With climate change upon us, and so many energy-gobbling fridges still clogging our homes, we all need to get in on the action. It’s a perfect match.
To organise a donation and collection, call 1300 366 283.