Greenpa and I were going back and forth a bit last weekend over the alleged merits of getting rid of your fridge. I disagree with him on a number of points, although I'm sure if you changed your eating habits and shopping habits, there is the chance of success.
But, ultimately, I have this thing about bacteria and mold - I don't like them in my food and refrigeration and freezing helps to slow down that growth. I would like to argue also that, unless someone is willing to substantially change the way they eat and live, it's possible that turning off their fridge will cost a higher total energy output.
There are three main reasons why I don't turn off my fridge and why, I think, for many Americans, it would produce a higher overall energy cost. This cost is not just what shows up on your utility bill, but the total inputs going into the system.
Now, if you don't have a newer or Energy Star rated fridge, this is a non-issue. But, if you do, it's likely to present a number of issues. For us, personally, since we get our electricity from hydro and wind, I'm less concerned about the CO2 impact than if I had a really old fridge and my electricity came from coal.
But, that said, there are other issues with turning off your fridge:
1. Cooking and food waste - Since you don't have the option of refrigerating leftovers you really have to make sure that you prepare only enough food that will feed you at that point in time. Any leftovers most likely will need to be thrown away or you risk increased contamination.
This causes a higher energy output for two reasons:
a. You can't take advantage of cooking large quantities at a time and saving it for meals later. For example, turning the oven on to bake one chicken breast for a dish is relatively the same as cooking 6 for that many more meals that get put in the fridge and eaten later in the week or put in the freezer for a meal another time. So, in this example, over the course of those many meals, you would need to turn the oven on 6 times rather than once. This uses more energy.
b. If you end up throwing out food because you made too much and can't save it, then all the energy that went into production and shipping of that food is lost. Not to mention the cost. If you can't bear to throw out the food and feel compelled to ingest the rest of it yourself, then you risk health problems associated with overeating.
Without refrigeration, you also risk throwing out a lot of other food that goes bad before you get a chance to eat it, like lettuce and other perishables that don't do well at room temperature. And, again, the energy that went into the growing and shipping of those foods is wasted as well.
2. Cost of food and packaging: Since I can't take advantage of cost savings in buying larger sizes of food, it is more expensive to me as a consumer. The example here would be only buying a pint or quart of milk each day rather than a gallon of milk to last a week. So, in general, I'm spending more on food if I can't rely on refrigeration or freezing.
Not only does buying smaller amounts end up being much more expensive, but the amount of packaging used for 4 quarts is a lot more than for a gallon. The problem with extra packaging (and in this example, processing), is that it takes more energy to produce that unit.
There's a tremendous environmental cost in the manufacturing process that includes both water and energy. One statistic I found: It takes so much less energy to manufacture one gallon of milk (versus a half gallon) that you could run your fridge for 3 days with the offset.
So, anytime I want to purchase a food item that really should be refrigerated (like milk, cheese, unsalted butter, etc.) and I have to buy it in smaller quantities, it will cost me more and the environmental impact will be higher.
3. Time and travel: Unless you live in an urban area where food shopping is available within walking distance, this increase in daily shopping will require you to, most likely, drive more. You will need to spend more time meal planning, coordinating out what you have and don't have on hand and shopping for those items. You will spend more in gas to drive to the store to pick up these items.
Now, of course, you can completely change the way you eat, walk to the store, etc. but for most people (particularly those who don't live in cold climes, which is more and more of the country these days), turning off your fridge can, ultimately, cost you more time, money and sum energy costs.