The things we use to keep us and our food cool in our homes has a rather dirty secret: The very thing that chills us out could also be heating us up.

Five things you need to know:

  1. It’s been estimated by researchers that the “cooling industry” (refrigeration and air conditioning) as a whole is responsible for about 10% of carbon dioxide emissions all around the world. That's way more than the impact of both shipping and flying together. It’s a sort of catch-22 because as temperatures rise due to global warming, so will the need for cooling.
  2. Previously, refrigeration used CFCs, or chlorofluorocarbons, but after they were found to deplete the earth’s ozone layer, they were banned in the late 1980s. So manufacturers replaced them with substances that were much kinder to the ozone, only to find later that they’re thousands of times more harmful than CO2 as greenhouse gases.
  3. They are hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs). Global agreements and a recent energy bill have been made to reduce HFC’s dramatically over the next 30 years, but the big problem is that most of the emissions occur when cooling equipment reaches the end of its life.
  4. With proper management, though, it can be recycled into other less-harmful substances safely. And if so, it is estimated to help cut hundreds of billions of gigatons of CO2 emissions by 2050.
  5. But the key to all that is making sure that when we buy a new fridge or AC, that the old one is disposed of properly and safely in ways approved by the Environmental Protection Agency.

So the next time you buy a fridge or AC unit, it’s important to remember that while they help you stay cool, if you don’t care for and manage their disposal correctly, the gasses they contain could end up heating all of us up — in the long run.