Why RAD Is So “Rad”

Get old, inefficient appliances off the grid with the EPA’s Responsible Appliance Disposal (RAD) program
By Ellen Sturm Niz
September 07, 2010

As oil-tainted water washes onto beaches as a result of the latest environmental disaster, more and more people are recognizing the importance of taking care of our planet. Going green is a global effort, but one that takes personal changes. Recycling cans, glass and paper has become one of the easiest ways for individuals to do their part—and now recycling appliances is easy, too.

In October 2007, Sears became the first retail partner in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Responsible Appliance Disposal (RAD) program. Through the RAD program, the Sears Home Delivery Haul Away Service provides removal of one old, inefficient appliance for each new appliance purchased and delivered. Once the old appliance is removed, Sears and its partners ensure that the disposal process takes place in an environmentally friendly manner to avoid the discarding of appliances in landfills. Many of the components of the old appliance are then recycled.

“It was a natural extension of the work we were already doing with Energy Star,” said Nolan Pike, VP/GMM of Home Appliances at Sears, which was named the 2010 Energy-Star Retail Partner of the Year. “In addition to encouraging people to take old appliances off the grid, we also wanted to feel good about the disposal of the product. You don’t want to create one environmental problem when you solve another. Otherwise it’s a partial program.”

The program yields results. Each year, the Sears RAD partnership helps to properly dispose of more than one million residential appliances, such as refrigerators and freezers, in an environmentally safe and earth-friendly manner. Sears’ participation in the program annually saves the equivalent of the greenhouse gas emissions from 650,000 cars. In 2008 alone, Sears reported to the EPA that its appliance liquidators and suppliers had reclaimed, recycled and/or destroyed about 44 million pounds of metal, 5.5 million pounds of plastic, 250,000 pounds of refrigerant and 60,000 gallons of used oil.

Not only does replacing an inefficient, 20-year-old refrigerator with one that has earned the Energy Star label save a household around 700 kWh a year—or more than $50 a year—additional energy savings can be achieved if the components of disposed units are recycled instead of landfilled by eliminating the need to produce virgin materials.


While only one other retailer has joined the program—most of the partners are utility companies—Pike believes more and more retailers will see that it is critical to become a part of RAD as states implement regulations requiring recycling and consumers become more aware. “We still get a lot more buzz from Energy Star [than from RAD], but given the choice, people would like to know that their appliance is disposed of properly and recycled.”

While currently consumers must purchase a Sears appliance to receive the RAD service from the company—all appliances it hauls away are recycled through RAD—Sears is testing a pilot program in Southern California to provide the service to non-purchasers as well, for a nominal fee. “We have this delivery and removal service set up across the country, so extending that service is natural for us because we have the capability,” said Pike. “Our hope is that very quickly we can roll it out everywhere.” (Customers can call a local Sears retailer or 800-4-MY-HOME to arrange the service in Southern California, or find out when the service might be available in their area.)


In late May, Sears also launched The Big Switch, a new initiative to help families make the switch to 5 million Energy-Star qualified appliances. The Big Switch is aimed at helping families remove and recycle millions of inefficient appliances from the energy grid for good, and saving families more than $2,500 on their utility bills. Switching to 5 million Energy Star appliances is equivalent to taking 600,000 cars off the road (enough to stretch from New York to Miami); adding 700,000 acres of forest, which is twice the size of Los Angeles; and saving nearly 20 billion gallons of water.

Sears is also launching a new website, SearsBigSwitch.com, where customers can take the Sears Energy Star Pledge and learn more about how they can help reduce their energy and water consumption and reduce their impact on the environment. “On the heels of the national ‘Cash for Appliances’ program, we hope to create a movement with The Big Switch that encourages even more customers to take the Energy Star Pledge, consider Energy-Star-qualified appliances and learn more about the small steps they can take to make a difference for our environment,” said Doug Moore, president of Home Appliances for Sears.

SearsBigSwitch.com features a section where visitors can nominate a Real Star, someone who has changed their lives for the greener, and a Rebate Map, where consumers can search for Energy-Star-qualified rebates in their area. The Live Greener section provides eco-friendly products and tips for every room of the home. Plus, consumers can take the Energy Star pledge for a chance to win a suite of Kenmore Energy-Star-qualified appliances.


Roughly 10 million refrigerators/freezers, 4.5 million air-conditioning units, and 1.8 million dehumidifiers are disposed of each year, according to the EPA. An older appliance should be de-manufactured and recycled because it contains substances and materials that are harmful to the environment, such as: oils and refrigerant; capacitors or ballasts that may contain Polychlorinated-biphenyls (PCBs); compressors, mercury-containing devices; glass; plastics; metals; leftover material. Removal and proper disposal of appliances are important to prevent emissions of ozone-depleting substances (ODS) and greenhouse gases (GHGs) by not allowing their release from refrigerants and insulating foams. It is also important to recover and properly dispose of PCBS, mercury and used oil.

But how exactly is an appliance recycled? Aluminum and copper are separated from the steel in the frame and siding materials. Steel and aluminum/copper material are transported to a nearby metals recycler who shreds the materials and sells them in local recycled-metals markets. In addition, fluids, gases, foam, fiberglass and rubber are drained, stripped or removed to be reused, recycled or for proper disposal.

Following are some photos (courtesy of Sears) to illustrate what’s involved:
• A worker at a refrigerator processing facility removes the unit’s metal hinges and doors. • A glass shelf is broken and then crushed for recycling. • A refrigerator is bar-coded and logged from cradle to grave in the recycling process. • The de-manufacturing process includes removing gases and oils. • Evaporators are collected for recycling. • Gases are separated by type and sent to Freon recyclers for the secondary market or properly destroyed. • Capacitors with PCBs are separated from those that are PCB-free. Oils are drained from motors. All are then properly destroyed or recycled.
• Metals are harvested and sorted by type for recycling.

Approximately 95 percent of the refrigerator/freezer material volume ends up being recycled. Only 5 percent ends up in a landfill. The leftover materials that are sent to landfills are physically quite small, consisting only of the gasket rubber and the fiber insulation contained in the doors. For typical refrigerator and freezer units, the landfilled materials can fit easily into an ordinary shopping bag.

Want more? Watch a refrigerator be recycled at a de-manufacturing facility in this video segment at CNNMoney.com.

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