Mr. Green is busy on his world-wide publicity tour for his new book. In the meantime, here's a Mr. Green classic column from July 2007.
Hey Mr. Green,
Should we replace our 1990 refrigerator? I know new models are much more efficient, but my husband asked about the environmental costs of replacing the old one before it conks out: Yes, we'd save energy, but what about the downside of removing and disposing of the old fridge, plus manufacturing the new one? —Gwen in Syracuse, New York
I applaud your husband's thoughtful questions, even if he's just deploying them to avoid shelling out money for a new fridge. Fortunately, you can tell him to chill. The average refrigerator today uses a third less energy than those of 15 years ago, thanks to federal regulations mandating greater efficiency. (Take that, you folks who whine about "burdensome regulations.") Because of this improvement, the energy used to dispose of a fridge as old as yours and to make a new one is recovered in just a few years' operation. Plus about 80 percent of the material in old refrigerators gets recycled. Before you buy, take a look at models bearing the EPA's Energy Star rating (energystar.gov), because they use at least 15 percent less energy than federal regulations require. (The refrigerator retirement calculator on the Web site will show you how much you can save.) Some utilities will even offer you a rebate on 'em.
One more thought: Like so many other things in the United States, from Big Gulps to trophy homes, refrigerators have developed a deplorable tendency toward gigantism and superfluous gadgetry. About all that's missing from the most Hummer-esque fridges is a robot to open your beer and chirp "Cheers" in one of a thousand programmable languages. You can easily end up paying four to five times more for space and features you'll never use. If you buy a modest 15-cubic-footer, you'll recoup its purchase price during its lifetime because of its miserly power demands.