Sustainable America Blog

Keeping It Cool

Old refrigerator

Do you have one of these humming away in your basement? Photo: DigitPedia Gadgets via Flickr

Recently, I went to my mother-in-law’s house for a family celebration. As usual, I was called upon to bring a second dining table up from the basement to fit 14 of us. In the basement, as always, the surplus food and drink for the big meal was stored in a second refrigerator that she keeps down there.

My mother-in-law recently renovated her kitchen and replaced an aging refrigerator with a new, energy-efficient one. And that also meant an upgrade to the basement refrigerator, which was previously a loud, inefficient monster of undetermined age (though the avocado green color probably gives it away).

This all got me thinking about second refrigerators. According to the last survey done in 2009 by the Department of Energy, approximately 26 million American households have a second refrigerator, and 86% of those run all year long. Perhaps not surprisingly, 13% of those second fridges are 15 to 19 years old, and 15% are more than 20 years old.

Those old refrigerators are shockingly less efficient than modern fridges. A fridge you buy today is 50% more energy efficient than one from 20 years ago. And since they often labor in uninsulated spaces like basements, garages and porches they have to work even harder to stay cold, especially in warm months. An old fridge can easily cost more than $1,000 in electricity per year!

A better approach would be to just buy the amount of food and beverages that can fit in your kitchen fridge, then go to the store when you need to restock. (For more smart shopping tips, check out these resources on Or, if you have a large family, it’s probably worth your while to upgrade your auxiliary fridge to the most efficient one you can afford.

When having a party, take a cue from my mother-in-law. Once upon a time her basement refrigerator was up and running all the time, but she now only plugs it in on an as-needed basis, a few days per year. If you follow her lead, remember to clean it out and unplug it after the event is over.

At Sustainable America we talk a lot about wasted food, and I’m happy to report that at this family party we did a good job of eating just about everything. The leftovers were distributed to guests, leaving nothing behind. If you have leftovers at parties this summer, find creative ways to eat them quickly, so they don’t go to waste.

Have fun, eat well, enjoy your family, and save money. Have a great summer!

How the Fridge of the Future Will Fight Food Waste
How to Organize Your Refrigerator
12 Ways to Make Your Next Party More Sustainable

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By the Numbers

Currently 50 million households suffer from food insecurity, meaning that family members cannot always meet their basic food needs.

10 million people a year could be fed through the recovery of just one-fifth of food waste.

Only 2% of food waste is composted or otherwise recycled—62% of paper is recycled.

Consumers throw out about 40% of the fresh and frozen fish they buy.

The U.S. produced 208 pounds of meat per person in 2009—60% more than Europe.

Low income commuters spend a much higher proportion of their wages on gas—8.6% versus 2.1% at $4 per gallon.

Food prices rose 35-40 percentage points between 2002–2008.

Americans consume 25% of the world’s produced oil, but our nation holds less than 3% of the world’s proven oil reserves.

The International Energy Agency says greenhouse gas emissions rose 3.2% last year, with a 9.3% increase in China offsetting declines in the US and EU.

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