Anyone caught trying to dump an old refrigerator by the side of the road can be fined up to $25,000 by the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Several utilities offer refrigerator reclamation programs. And even though car air conditioners emit the most chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), removing CFCs from old refrigerators is a high priority.

Northeast Utilities, an electric utility serving parts of Massachusetts and Connecticut, for instance, has removed more than 30,000 refrigerators and freezers from homes and businesses since 1990.

In collaboration with Appliance Recycling Centers of America (ARCA), based in Minneapolis, Northeast recovers 99 percent of CFC 12 and 96 percent of CFC 11 from old refrigerators by using a process developed in Germany.

Northeast says that rather than building new electrical generating plants, it is cheaper in the long run to have more energy-efficient, nonpolluting refrigerators in homes. Older refrigerators can use as much as 20 percent of the power in a home.

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