The modern domestic refrigerator doesn’t use much more electricity than refrigerators from the 1940s. Admittedly, modern models have greater volume, and no need to manually defrost, but it remains to be seen just how long they will remain functional. What is omitted from that silly EnergyStar tag in your new fridge, is the energy cost, and environmental damage associated with its manufacture. Copious amounts of petroleum based plastics go into the liner, shelves, door, gaskets, ice maker, hardware, and the insulation. Oh, the insulation! I don’t know if I should call urethane insulation “plastic” per se, but in terms of its obnoxious environmental assault, urethane belongs in some sort of category with the rest of the trash in refrigerators.
“Trash” is the operative word here. They make the machine. We buy it. It runs reliably for 10 to 15 years. If it breaks at any time, or is otherwise viewed as a shadow of its former self, the machine is discarded; not necessarily recycled, but mostly just thrown away. Yes, in some cases these refrigerators are separated into their component parts as much as practicable, but the vast majority of the millions of refrigerators thrown away each year in the US are not.
And what about the distance it travels? So much of what we use in the United States comes from southeast Asia. I don’t mean to sound like a chest thumping, flag waiver – I’m certainly not, but I feel that the amount of resources which go into every refrigerator to just get it to our homes, is immense and unnecessary. We can make things here, and we can make them under a radically different model than globalized capitalism.
What I propose is an open design refrigerator, built locally, if not by the users themselves. A value based approach could set goals of high efficiency, versatility, modularity, serviceability, and experiment with various materials to evaluate their respective appropriateness in regards to toxicity, availability, longevity, ability to be recycled, and environmental impact.
By making the cooling unit modular, I hope to encourage creative people to find new ways to reinvent the common domestic refrigerator, and share those experiences in a collaborative fashion.