Big Chill in Fridge Recycling. (Waste Disposal)

By Holton, W. Conard | Environmental Health Perspectives, July 2002 | Go to article overview

Big Chill in Fridge Recycling. (Waste Disposal)


Holton, W. Conard, Environmental Health Perspectives


A new regulation requiring the recovery of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) from refrigerators has caused the United Kingdom to adopt new control procedures and build new recycling facilities on very short notice. The United Kingdom disposes of about 2.5 million consumer fridges and half a million larger commercial fridges each year. From a handling process that saw 40% of discarded fridges still in working order exported to developing countries and the rest degassed and recycled as scrap metal, the nation is moving quickly toward recycling all fridges domestically and controlling all related forms of ozone-depleting substances for proper disposal.

The stage for change was set by the 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, which identified CFCs and HCFCs as ozone-depleting substances. In response, the European Commission adopted Regulation 2037/2000, which requires members of the European Union to remove all such substances from refrigeration equipment before it is scrapped.

CFCs and HCFCs are found in two components of fridges. About 20-25% is gaseous, mixed with oils and used in piping as a coolant. The rest is used as a propellant in the foam insulation inside the fridge body and door. Most manufacturers stopped using CFCs as refrigerants in the mid-1990s, but HCFCs continued to be used as a propellant for several years after. The coolant form has always been removed before recycling the metal, but until recently there were no U.K. scrap facilities capable of capturing the CFCs and HCFCs in the foam.

Regulation 2037/ 2000 was issued in June 2000, with a compliance date for domestic fridges of 1 January 2002. But questions over the extent and means of compliance dragged on for a year before the commission clarified that all forms of CFCs and HCFCs must be removed and treated as hazardous waste, usually by incineration. With initial confusion over who would recycle the fridges and where they could be stored, news stories surfaced of farmers finding old fridges dumped on their property. …

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