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Last Updated: Thursday, 25 November, 2004, 12:47 GMT
Why do so many fridges get thrown away?
As sure as eggs is eggs, fridges will expire and not be repaired
The sight of more than 40,000 disused fridges rotting in a Manchester scrap yard is a sharp reminder of today's throwaway society. But why do so many fridges get thrown away?

With its sweeping curves, pastel hues and American diner-style detailing, Simon Oldfield's Bendix refrigerator would elicit soft purrs of approval from today's interior designers.

Retro fridges are quite the fashion, but compared to the sleek replicas that grace many a contemporary kitchen, this model is different - a 1963 original.

"I can still remember going with my parents to Jones Brothers in Holloway to buy the fridge. To me it was like something out of Thunderbirds - and I loved it," recalls Mr Oldfield.

The Bendix proved a faithful servant. In 40 years of service the only repair it has needed is a new light bulb.

That a new fridge today could be expected to be happily ticking over in 2045 is unthinkable to service engineer Kenneth Watt.

The fridges have been waiting to be disposed of for nearly a year - pic by MEN Syndication

"To be blunt, quality these days is crap," says Mr Watt, a repairman for 20 years who runs the consumer website ukwhitegoods.com.

According to the charity Wastewatch, 2.4 million fridges and freezers are thrown away every year in the UK. Those not exported to developing countries have to be carefully decommissioned to extract the ozone-depleting coolants used in the old days.

A survey earlier this year found households tended to keep fridges for 11-12 years, but according to Mr Watt, some new models would not last half that time.

As with most electrical goods, while prices have fallen, the cost of components has shot up, making repairs nearly pointless.

"A compressor drives the heat exchange, turning hot gas into cool liquid. It's the only moving part in most fridges and so is most likely to break," says Mr Watt.

Conspiracy theories

"A new compressor for a fridge that you bought for 250/300 will cost you 150/200 to buy and have fitted.

Old fridge
The Oldfield family fridge - distinctly cool
"If you tell a customer you can fix their fridge for 200 or they could buy a brand new one for 250, well, it's a no brainer. We've not fitted a new compressor in a fridge for two years now."

Conspiracy theories abound about built-in obsolescence, but Mr Watt says it's more straightforward: lower prices mean cheaper manufacturing processes. Makers need to keep volumes up to sustain low production costs - making, storing and cataloguing additional components is too costly.

"A door seal is common a problem. These days you can't just buy a new seal it's got to be a whole new door."

It's no wonder so many fridges are being dumped, leading, in extreme cases, to fridge mountains such as those in Manchester which hit the headlines recently.

Even reconditioning firms are being edged out, as environmental regulations push up the costs, says Richard Newson, of Wastewatch.

So is there anything you can do to get a few more years out of your fridge? Kenneth Watt advises on a few practical measures:

  • Make sure its properly installed, especially built-in or integrated fridges. Often they are not well vented, shortening a unit's life-span.
  • Don't leave the door open longer than necessary, and make sure the door is sealing. Neglecting to do so, means the fridge will have to work harder to stay cool.
  • Make sure the drain channel at the back, on the inside, which collects extra moisture, is clear.
  • When loading lots of fresh food into the freezer, do so over a few hours, to allow the unit to recover its temperature more quickly.

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