Recycling Challenge: Air Conditioner

by Samantha Wittchen

Philadelphians have been conditioned to prepare for a typical hot and humid summer. Windows are filled with those ubiquitous boxes that crank out cold salvation for us city dwellers. Perhaps this is the year you decided to upgrade your old energy-sucking air conditioner to a newer, Energy Star-rated unit. According to their website (, if everyone switched to a more efficient cooling device, it would prevent 1.3 billion pounds of greenhouse emissions. Additional good news: You’re helping to conserve energy during one of the peak electrical consumption periods of the year. The bad news: You now have an old air conditioner on your hands.

Window air conditioning units contain Freon, a refrigerant created by DuPont in the 1930s for refrigerators and other cooling apparatus. After Freon chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were shown to deplete the ozone layer in the ’80s, hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) were used as interim replacements. Although HCFCs cause less damage to the ozone layer, the eventual replacement will be hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which have no known effects. In the ’90s, almost all Freon CFC uses were phased out, but it is still illegal to release Freon into the atmosphere. Proper disposal is required to make sure this doesn’t happen.

For air conditioners that still work, consider donating them to a local shelter, day care or summer camp, or use or to find a sweaty Philadelphian who will take that air conditioner off your hands.

For non-functioning air conditioners, the first step is getting the Freon removed from the unit responsibly. There is usually a small disposal fee for this, but our ozone layer is worth it. Both Northeast Philadelphia-based Safe Disposal (7333 Milnor St., 215-332-3134) and Recycle Metals Corporation (407 Alan Wood Rd., Conshohocken, 610-828-5553) remove Freon from appliances.

Once the Freon is removed, you can take the unit to most scrap metal yards for recycling. Recycle Metals Corporation is a one-stop shop that will remove the Freon and accept the unit for recycling, and a quick search on will yield you a wealth of scrap metal results. Call first to make sure they accept all metals.