The first refrigerator was collected from the Swanton home of Ellsworth Moore in front of television and newspaper crews in the hopes of publicizing the Efficiency Vermont program that wants to collect about 3,000 refrigerators and freezers a year from Vermont homes.
Moore said he had owned the 1963 model Frigidaire for more than 30 years and it had been sitting in his home, empty, but running and costing him about $150 a year for electricity.
"It's one of those things you kind of forget about," Moore said. "I certainly can use the 30 bucks for something else. It's a good way to get it disposed of."
The Vermont program is one of many across the country designed to recycle old refrigerators or other appliances, save energy and protect the environment.
Efficiency Vermont contracts with the state, for the specific purpose of finding ways to save energy. Consumers pay for the operation through a surcharge on their utility bills.
Almost three years ago, the federal Environmental Protection Agency began a program in California and other Western states seeking to reduce energy consumption. The agency now has 21 Responsible Appliance Disposal Program partners across the country, says Evelyn Swain, the EPA manager for the program.
"It's really growing, more and more of the electric utilities are signing up for the programs," she said. "It's a great way to reduce energy demand, but also it reduces emissions of chemicals that pollute the ozone layer and contribute to climate change."
Sam Sirkin of Jaco Environmental, an appliance recycling company hired by Efficiency Vermont to dispose of the appliances, said the refrigerators and freezers are "an environmental time bomb."
Sirkin, of Portland, Ore., said old refrigerators and freezers contain toxic materials, including PCBs and mercury.
"The coolant itself is a very powerful greenhouse gas and ozone depleting substance," he said.
But about 95 percent of the machine can be recycled and taking one of these energy-guzzlers off the power grid reduces the amount of carbon dioxide in the environment by about five tons, he said. "That's two cars off the road."
In addition, the new refrigerators that replace them are two to three times more energy efficient.
Sirkin said his company was now working in Quebec and in 21 U.S. states, most recently in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.