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Cash for Clunkers

A Better — and Cooler — Version of “Cash for Clunkers”

4:23 PM EDT on August 12, 2009

bilde.jpg(Photo: Free Press)

During the Senate's debate over giving $2 billion more to the "cash for clunkers" car rebate program, John McCain (R-AZ) quipped that "cash for refrigerators" might be next in line.

Does McCain know that it's already happening -- with a much bigger environmental boost than the auto version?

In Michigan, the Detroit Free Press reports today that refrigerator recycling programs have taken more than 1,000 power-swigging models off residents' hands in less than two months, distributing a $50 rebate for each trade-in.

Similar refrigerator-rebate programs are also succeeding in New Jersey, Vermont, and Massachusetts.

Here's where the superiority to "cash for clunkers" comes in: The car rebates, which run as high as $4,500 per purchase, ultimately cost taxpayers around $160 per ton of carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere, assuming that current patterns of fuel-efficiency improvement hold.

But "cash for refrigerators" programs typically offer between $25 and $50 for the removal of old fridges that emit chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), the chemicals behind the growing ozone hole that were eliminated from home appliances in the 1990s.

Ridding a home of a CFC-spewing fridge removes about five tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, recycler Sam Sirkin told the New York Times last week. That works out to a cost of $10 per ton for the richest refrigerator rebate program -- more than 10 times cheaper than "cash for clunkers."

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