There are those for whom recycling and composting just aren’t enough, who have reduced their annual waste to near zero, ditched their clothes dryer or stopped flying, and are ready to take the next step in exploring the frontiers of sustainable living.

For Manhattanite Josh Spodek, that has meant running out of a refrigerator, which he identified as the biggest source of electricity consumption in his Greenwich Village apartment.

Spodek started out by deciding not to pack, and one small step led to another. Now, he lives virtually network-free in a city that, in many ways, is the epitome of networking.

Josh Spodek sits and works on his laptop which is charged from a portable solar kit mounted on the roof of his apartment
Josh Spodek works on his laptop while charging from a portable solar kit installed on the roof of his apartment building.(AP: Baby Matthews)

“It was a change in mindset followed by continuous improvement,” says Spodek.

First he unplugged the refrigerator for three winter months, and then the following year for about six months, from November to early spring, when food usually sat for about two days on the windowsill.

Now, he has been without a fridge for over a year.

a garbage bag sits on a chair near a window in Josh Spodek's apartment
Spodek says he hasn’t taken out the trash since 2019(AP: Baby Matthews)

Mr. Spodek is quick to point out that he is not against refrigeration in general, but considers it unnecessary for everyone to be running 24/7. In many parts of the world, he points out, refrigerators are a rarity.

“Manhattan people lived without refrigeration until the middle of the 20th century,” he said. “So it’s clearly doable.”

Critics are quick to point out that this experiment is not to be taken lightly.

“People’s lives can be at risk if certain foods go bad. Certain dairy products go bad very easily and quickly if care is not taken,” said Frank Talty, founder and president of the New York-based Institute of Refrigeration. New York, which trains students to install and service refrigerators and air conditioners.

When he first unplugged his refrigerator, Spodek said, “Honestly, I wasn’t sure I could survive a week without it. I didn’t really have a plan for how I would manage without one. But I thought I wouldn’t.” kill me, and I could always plug it back in.”

jars of fermenting fruit and vegetables sit on a stove in a kitchen next to unplugged appliances
Josh Spodek keeps jars of fermenting fruits and vegetables on his unused gas stove.(AP: Baby Matthews)

Going vegan with no need to refrigerate meat or dairy certainly helps.

Skeptics, and there are many, point out that not having a refrigerator requires buying groceries almost daily.

For those with large families or who need to drive for groceries, more frequent shopping trips can cancel out the energy savings.

Not to mention, the inconvenience would be unbearable for most.

Also, improvements in refrigerators over the years mean that they now generally use less energy than, say, a heating system or water heater.

“While using less energy is always laudable, most homes could make a bigger impact by switching to more efficient ways to heat and cool their home, like a heat pump,” said Joe Vukovich, an energy efficiency advocate. in the Natural Resources Defense Council. .

Josh Spodek in his kitchen near a blackboard on which energy and pollution are written
Josh Spodek says the changes he’s made have improved his quality of life. (AP: Baby Matthews)

While refrigerators “used to be massively inefficient in the ’70s and ’80s, their energy efficiency has increased dramatically since then” and continues to improve, he says.

Many stores will also recycle old refrigerators, and some utility companies offer incentives to take back older models.

Plus, just using your fridge differently can make a difference, Mr. Vukovich says: Opening the door less often, for example, saves energy.

“I’m not saying there’s no room for improvement, but the greener refrigerator story is a great success story,” he said.

Still, Spodek notes that refrigerators typically run nonstop. “If everyone could live without a fridge for, say, two weeks in the course of the year, it would save an extraordinary amount of energy,” he said.

Josh Spodek leans in to point to his portable solar kit installed behind solar panels on his roof.
Josh Spodek uses power from a solar-generated battery to cook with an electric pressure cooker. (AP: Baby Matthews)

And they could learn something.

Beyond saving energy, Mr. Spodek, who works as an executive coach, teaches leadership as an adjunct professor at New York University and writes blogs and podcasts about his experiences, says not having a refrigerator has improved his quality of life.

He buys fresh produce at farmers’ markets, receives boxes of produce from a farmer’s cooperative, keeps a stockpile of dried beans and grains, and has become adept at a few fermentation techniques.

He cooks with an electric pressure cooker and, very rarely, a toaster oven, powering them from a portable solar panel and battery pack.

Josh Spodek can be seen from behind walking up the stairs in the dark with a battery and solar kit.
Josh Spodek says the process of walking up and down stairs with the solar kit is “almost spiritual.” (AP: Baby Matthews)

Since you live in a city apartment, that means running your panel and battery up (and down) 11 flights of stairs a couple of times a day to the roof of your building.

It is an exercise that he describes as “almost spiritual.”

When she walks up the stairs, she says, she thinks of the people around the world who live without modern conveniences.

“By doing this, I’m definitely learning more about their cultures than if I just flew somewhere for a week.”

Without a refrigerator, she has also learned to cook better and use a wider variety of seasonal products.

“In the winter, it’s just beets, carrots, potatoes and onions, plus dried beans and grains. I realized that this is how cooking happens. You take what you have and make it taste good,” he says.

“And now I just have to eat what I buy before it goes bad, or pickle it to make it last a little longer.”

a man standing in the sun on the roof of his apartment in New York City
Josh Spodek says he hopes to inspire others to adopt a similar renewable lifestyle. (AP: Baby Matthews)

Turning off his fridge is just one part of Mr. Spodek’s efforts to live more sustainably. He says he hasn’t taken out the trash since 2019 (he still hasn’t produced enough non-compostable and non-recyclable waste to fill it) and hasn’t flown since 2016 (his parents live nearby).

While it may not change the world if one person uses a little less energy, Mr. Spodek says with the Zero Waste movement: “What I do does matter.”

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


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