Refrigerator too far? Living sustainably in New York City by unplugging

Written by Katherine Roth

January 26, 2023 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) — There are those for whom recycling and composting just aren’t enough, and they’ve cut their annual waste to nearly zero.Or give up their clothes dryer or stop flyingand are ready to take the next step in exploring the frontiers of sustainable living.

For Manhattanite’s Josh Spodek, that meant no refrigerator, which he identified as the biggest source of electrical use in his Greenwich Village apartment.

Spodek started by deciding not to use encapsulation, and one small step led to another. Now, he lives almost without a net The City is the epitome of networking in many ways.

“It was a shift in mindset that was followed by continuous improvement,” says Spodek. He first defrosted the refrigerator for three winter months, then the following year for about six months (from November to early spring, when food was generally kept for about two days on a windowsill). Now, it has been free from the refrigerator for over a year.

Spodek is quick to point out that he’s not against cooling in general, but finds it unnecessary for everyone to have it running 24/7. He points out that refrigerators are scarce in many parts of the world.

“People lived in Manhattan without refrigerators until the mid-20th century, so obviously this is possible,” he says.

Critics are quick to point out that this experience should not be taken lightly.

People’s lives could be in danger if certain foods go rancid. Frank Talty, founder and president of the New York-based Refrigeration Institute, which trains students to install and maintain refrigerators and air conditioners:

“I honestly wasn’t sure I’d survive a week without it,” Spodek says when he first unplugged his refrigerator. “I really didn’t have a plan for how to live without one. But I figured it wouldn’t kill me, and I could always plug it back in.”

Being vegan without having to refrigerate meat or dairy definitely helps.

Skeptics—and there are many—point out that not having a refrigerator requires daily food shopping. For those with large families or who need to drive to get groceries, frequent shopping trips can negate energy savings. Not to mention that for most people the inconvenience would not be acceptable.

Also, improvements to refrigerators over the years Means they usually use less energy now than, say, a heating system or water heater.

“While using less energy is always commendable, most households can make a bigger impact by switching to more efficient ways of heating and cooling their homes,” says Joe Vukovich, an energy efficiency advocate with the Natural Resources Defense Council. Like a heat pump.” .

While refrigerators “were widely inefficient in the 1970s and 1980s, energy efficiency has increased dramatically since then,” and it’s still getting better, he says. Many stores will also recycle old refrigerators, and some utility companies offer incentives to retire older models.

Also, just using your refrigerator differently can make a difference, says Vukovich: Opening the door less frequently, for example, saves energy.

“I don’t want to say there is no room for improvement, but the story of more environmentally friendly refrigerators is a huge success story,” says Vukovich.

However, Spodek points out that refrigerators are usually non-stop: “If everyone could live without a refrigerator for, say, two weeks out of the year, that would save an extraordinary amount of energy.”

And they might learn something.

In addition to saving energy, Spodak—who works as an executive coach, teaches leadership as an assistant professor at New York University, and blogs and podcasts about his experiences—says not using the refrigerator has improved his quality of life. He buys fresh produce at farmers’ markets, receives crates of produce from an agricultural cooperative (CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture), keeps stocks of dried beans and grains, and becomes proficient in some brewing techniques.

He cooks with an electric pressure cooker, rarely uses a toaster oven, and supplies them with a portable solar panel and battery pack. Since he lives in a city apartment, that means lugging the board and battery pack up (and down) 11 flights of stairs several times a day to the rooftop.

It’s an exercise he describes as “semi-spiritual.” When he walks up the stairs, he says, he thinks of people around the world who live without modern conveniences. “By doing that, I definitely learn more about their cultures than if I traveled somewhere for a week.”

Without a refrigerator, also learn to cook better and use a variety of seasonal produce.

In winter, it is limited to beets, carrots, potatoes and onions, as well as dried beans and grains. I realized that this is how the kitchen happens. You take what you have and make it delicious,” he says. “And now I just have to eat what I buy before it spoils, or pickle it so it lasts a little longer.”

Other aspects of his efforts to live more sustainably: Spodek says he hasn’t taken out the trash since 2019 (he hasn’t produced enough non-compostable, non-recyclable waste to fill it up yet) and he hasn’t flown since 2016 (the parents live nearby).

While it might not change the world if someone used a little less energy by unplugging their refrigerator, Spodek notes that, as with the Zero Waste movement, “what I do matters.”

“Setting an example for millions of people to see that this is possible? It’s huge.”


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