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Environment

German groups urge consumers to ditch inefficient fridges

Environmental groups and retailers are launching a campaign to encourage Germans to upgrade their old, inefficient fridges to eco-friendly models. Organizers hope the program will be extended to other appliances as well.

Stacks of fridges in a landfill

Old white goods don't belong in the home, say eco-groups

German consumers will soon have an extra incentive to trade in energy-guzzling white goods under a program to be launched Friday by energy-efficiency awareness organization Energiesparclub and the German branch of Friends of the Earth (BUND).

A new month-long campaign offers consumers who trade in old fridges and freezers up to 100 euros ($127) cash back when they purchase A++ graded replacements from retailers EP and Medimax. The old, less efficient appliances are given to the dealers for environmentally friendly disposal.

The campaign was developed with energy savings and the environment in mind, but organizers said it will also benefit budget-conscious households, which will save money at the cash register and on their electricity bills. Organizers calculated that upgrading from a 1992-model refrigerator-freezer using about 133 euros worth of electricity each year to a 2009 A++ model that uses 51 euros worth of power would save consumers hundreds of euros over the life of the new unit.

Most Germans slow to let go

Black and white photo form 1948 of a woman in the kitchen

Is that fridge still in the kitchen?

"We want to encourage people to exchange their 10-year-old refrigerators, it just makes sense," said BUND energy efficiency expert Christian Noll. He said 80 percent of German households have a refrigerator or freezer that is over a decade old. "And with this bonus, people are more likely to get rid of their energy-wasting appliances."

Noll said when BUND organized a similar initiative in 2008 one retailer reported that 300 customers had taken advantage of the trade-in program, while others reported that sales of refrigerators carrying an energy efficiency rating of A++ had risen by 20 percent.

Organizers said they are hoping for greater participation this year.

"We've got no limits, the retailers didn't say, 'When we get to 1,000 fridges that's it,'" Energiesparclub spokesperson Jens Hakenes said, adding that retailers are expecting to sell around 500 energy efficient fridges in response to this year's campaign.

Parallels to scrap subsidy

Organizers said the fridge replacement program would be greener than a similar federal "cash for clunkers" scheme that offered to a 2,500 euros incentive for consumers to replace old vehicles with newer models. Even as 2 million people in Germany traded in their cars, the plan came under fire by environmental groups as being aimed at stimulating the economy by boosting auto sales rather than helping the environment.

Wrecked cars piled on top of one another

Critics argued last year's scrap subsidy did little to help the environment

"The problem with the car-scrapping campaign was that it was labeled as an environmental initiative, but it was really designed to get people to buy more cars," he said. "We are calling for the government to start a wider campaign - one that covers not only fridges but also energy-intensive appliances like washing machines."

Fridges just the beginning

A similar campaign in Austria that extended to clothes dryers as well as refrigerators and freezers saw sales of A++ rated appliances double in the space of a year.

"We are just raising awareness and showing that this kind of campaign can work in Germany," said Noll. He said if the campaign proves successful, it could give the government more reason to implement a wider initiative that would cover other household appliances.

"Cooling appliances and refrigerators are among the biggest energy-wasters [in German households]," said a spokesperson for Oeko-Test, an organization that conducts independent testing of consumer products and places an emphasis on how they stack up environmentally. "But entertainment electronics, for example televisions, computers and gaming consoles, use up a lot of energy, too."

The German Environment Ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

Author: Sophie Tarr

Editor: Sean Sinico

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